New Brunswick

Union favoured by licensed practical nurses guilty of raiding, says labour congress

The Canadian Labour Congress has found a union guilty of raiding after it set up meetings and gathered signatures from public-sector licensed practical nurses.

Carpenters union had about 10 meetings with LPNs across the province last month

New Brunswick's public-sector licensed practical nurses have submitted an application to be carved out of their current CUPE grouping and want to be represented by the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers. (iStock)

The Canadian Labour Congress has found one union guilty of raiding after it set up meetings and gathered signatures from public-sector licensed practical nurses.

The congress imposed sanctions on the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers last week.

Since early June, the carpenters union, as the council is known, held 10 meetings with LPNs from the province's hospitals, some nursing homes and extramural programs.

As a result, more than half the 2,300 LPNs signed cards saying they want to switch from CUPE to the carpenters union. 

On Friday, the carpenters union, which also represents the Fredericton Police Force, submitted an application to the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board asking to start representing LPNs. 

On the same day, the LPNs filed paperwork to be separated from other professions in their current group.

Debra Romero, executive secretary-treasurer with the carpenters union, said there was no raid. She said the LPNs approached the carpenters union, not the other way around, and they gave CUPE some time before they started having the meetings.

"I asked the LPNs that came to us to go back to CUPE and try and work out differences with them and try and see if they could give them the voice that they so wanted," she said. "And that didn't work out for them."

This group is separate from the private-sector nursing home workers, including LPNs, who have been embroiled in heated negotiations with the Blaine Higgs government and the employer for months.

They can't receive any service from the congress until they cease this behaviour and, of course, take steps to ensure that they will not be in breach of their responsibility to the constitution​​​​- Hassan Yussuff, Canadian Labour Congress

Romero said since their contract expired in May, LPNs have been hoping to carve out their own representation instead of being in a union with other hospital workers. Their CUPE local includes patient care, clerical and institutional workers.

Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff said it doesn't matter if the nurses approached the union or the other way around. Trying to sign members that already belong to a union under the congress is against the rules.

"I don't disagree that these workers may have brought some concerns to the carpenters'," he said. 

"But fundamentally the carpenters have a responsibility as part of their oath and affiliation to the congress is not to simply encourage those workers to leave the union, but simply to help them and help CUPE solve that problem."

Some demonstrators were angry about how the province handled the contract negotiations with CUPE nursing home workers. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

According to the labour congress constitution, any union found guilty of raiding will immediately lose the right to vote, the right to take part in congress committees and access to all congress services, such as attending education functions, conferences and the labour college.

"They can't receive any service from the congress until they cease this behaviour and, of course, take steps to ensure that they will not be in breach of their responsibility to the constitution," Yussuff said.

From there, the guilty union has three months to make amends. The sanctions get more severe every three months, until the union is kicked out of the congress completely.

Amends would include revoking their application to the labour and employment board, Yussuff said.

Possible labour board hearing

Now that the labour board has received the carpenters union's application, CUPE and the employer — which is the province — have 10 days to raise any objections. The labour board can then request a hearing or approve the request.

CUPE spokesperson Simon Ouellette previously described the meetings the carpenters union was having with LPNs as "flat-out raiding."

"Raiding in a nutshell is one union going after another union's members instead of trying to organize the unorganized," Ouellette said. 

CUPE representative Ralph McBride says he's concerned that the carpenters union has promised more than it can deliver. (CBC)

Ralph McBride, CUPE provincial co-ordinator for Local 1252, said the union has been listening to the LPNs' complaints and trying to work for them during negotiations.

McBride said he's worried about how much the carpenters union has promised, and how much they can actually deliver.

"I'm concerned about them losing some of the benefits that they've already gained through years of negotiations [with CUPE]," he said. 

"I'm concerned when they start looking outside, that what they're being promised is actually promises that can't be kept."

Romero said she can't disclose the number of people who signed cards to join, but for a union to apply for certification with the labour board, it must gather signatures from at least 51 per cent of the labour force.

Romero said she herself has shaken hands with at least 2,000 LPNs who showed up to the meetings. 

"When they came to us it was about having a voice of their own," she said.

Real concerns

JoAnne Graham, executive director-registrar of the Association of New Brunswick Licensed Practical Nurses, said the scope of practice of LPNs has increased in the last few years, and that means more studying and more responsibility.

"They are considered health-care professionals," she said. "They graduate from the college from a two-year program and they'd like to be recognized for what they do and for their their education as well."

She said the LPNs have been concerned about their safety, as well as their workload. The scope of their work has increased to include more work typically done by registered nurses, but their wages have not caught up, she said.

"What we see on social media is that they want to have their voice. They feel that that there may be some issues, that they're not being heard."

About the Author

Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based out of Saint John. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca

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