Nursing groups join forces

More than 7,000 licensed practical nurses voted to join the B.C. Nurses' Union last week.

More than 7,000 licensed practical nurses voted to join the B.C. Nurses’ Union last week.

The LPNs, employed by the five provincial health authorities and Providence Health Care, were previously represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union and the Hospital Employees’ Union.

LPNs employed by private or non-profit groups, such as Nanaimo Travellers Lodge and Kiwanis Village will remain with other unions.

Jo Taylor, chairwoman of the Pacific Rim branch of the BCNU, said the union has fielded requests to join from LPNs for some years.

“They’re a professional body as well and they’re nurses,” she said. “We understand their issues and they understand ours. They’re our sisters and brothers that work beside us in teams every day.”

A recent survey showed the majority of registered nurses support joining forces with LPNs, Taylor added.

A BCNU news release states that of the 4,873 LPNs who voted, almost 70 per cent voted in favour of leaving their current unions to join the BCNU and 74 per cent of Vancouver Island Health Authority LPNs voted yes to the switch – the highest of all health authorities.

Taylor said all nurses employed by the health authority will now sit at the bargaining table together – before, discussions between the LPNs and the RNs happened at two different tables – and this will help the union advocate for a better working environment.

“It’s power in numbers because we’re all concerned about patient care,” she said.

Tensions between RNs and LPNs have occurred over the employer choosing to replace RNs with LPNs to save money, but Taylor said the union hopes to secure job security language in both contracts.

The first attempt by the BCNU at getting LPNs to join was made in 2009, but the union was unable to get enough signed membership cards from LPNs.

Taylor said the BCNU’s actions have had consequences – the union’s membership in the B.C. Federation of Labour was revoked and it had to withdraw from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

“We felt that this was a good enough and worthy enough cause to make these sacrifices,” she said.

The Hospital Employees’ Union, which formerly represented the majority of LPNs, continues to represent more than 2,000  nurses who work for non-profit and for-profit long-term care facility operators.

“LPNs would be better served if they had a united voice, but this vote has left them divided,” said Mike Old, HEU spokesman. “But the vote was very clear, it was a clear margin.”

Old said there has been tension between LPNs and RNs regarding overlapping scope of practice and the BCNU has resisted expansion of the LPN role in the health-care system.

Due to the HEU’s advocacy and the advocacy of the profession itself, the number of LPNs working in B.C. has doubled over the past decade, he said.