New Brunswick

LPNs vow to keep fighting to leave CUPE for another union

New Brunswick’s licensed practical nurses vow to keep up the fight after the province’s labour board rejected their request to leave CUPE and join another union. 

Labour board denied group's application last Friday

Licensed practical nurses have seen the scope of their responsibilities expanded since the 1970s, when they were called registered nursing assistants. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

New Brunswick's licensed practical nurses vow to keep up the fight after the province's labour board rejected their request to leave CUPE and join another union. 

"We're not taking this sitting down," said Nicole Tompkins, one of the leaders of the group of LPNs. "We're definitely going to continue fighting." 

On Friday, the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board rejected the group's application to join the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers, a local of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. 

Tompkins said she was "absolutely shocked" by the board's decision. After all, more than 85 per cent of the province's LPNs showed their support for the move by signing membership cards with the carpenters' union.

"Eighty-five per cent is a very large group of LPNS,  very large," said Tompkins on Tuesday. "To have that many dissatisfied members in the union. It's time to let us go. "

At a number of hearings held last year, LPNs argued that they weren't being adequately represented by CUPE. 

LPNs Nicole Tompkins and Christene Smith sign their membership cards with the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers. (Submitted by Nicole Tompkins)

"It just wasn't working out with CUPE," explained Tompkins. 

So she and fellow organizer Christene Smith began to shop around for other options. Two years ago, they approached the carpenters' union.

Tompkins said it offered them their own local, "where we could have our own contract and LPNs would look after LPNs." 

She said members believed "that would be the best option for us.

"That way, when you have an issue and you pick up the phone, it's an LPN on the other end that understands what it is you're going through and how that problem needs to be dealt with." 

This could be a very bad situation for our health-care system if a number of LPNs decide that they can no longer continue in this profession.- Nicole Tompkins

But the report from the labour board said LPNs are being well represented by CUPE and would have "little bargaining power" if they were to leave. 

"On the basis of the evidence presented, the board is satisfied that CUPE 1252 is representing the LPNs interests effectively," wrote Elizabeth MacPherson, vice-chairperson of the board, in the decision. 

"There was no evidence provided that would lead the board to conclude that the inclusion of LPNs in the patient services bargaining unit has not worked; on the contrary, the LPNs have benefited from the bargaining power of the larger group."

The province's more than 2,000 LPNs are members of CUPE's "patient services" group, along with 28 other classifications, according to the final report from the labour board. 

One thing that both sides agreed on was that the scope of the job has changed drastically over the decades. 

The registrar of the provincial regulatory body for LPNs, JoAnne Graham, said LPNs initially only required a one-year diploma compared to the current two-year program. By contrast, registered nurses, are required to complete a four-year bachelor degree, she explained. 

With the added schooling came added responsibilities, said Graham, and LPNs now work collaboratively alongside RNs. 

The labour board report states that "LPNs can perform patient physical assessment, start intravenous injections and administer medications. They function as part of the care team, handling stable patients while RNs deal with unstable patients." 

The basic care formerly provided by LPNs is now done by personal support workers. 

"Consequently," summed up the report,  "LPNs feel more of an affinity with RNs than with the employees represented by CUPE 1252.

"In their view, the LPN's job is more complex than the current job description suggests, which they submit is evidence that CUPE 1252 does not understand what LPNs do."

The report summarizes the testimony of several LPNs who testified about why the group believes their interests aren't being adequately served by CUPE. It says "the witnesses testified that they have lost confidence in CUPE 1252's ability and willingness to represent their interests."

Debra Romero, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers, said it's "shocking" that the wishes of more than 85 per cent of LPNs is being ignored. (Submitted by Debra Romero)

One of the LPNs testified, "We matter more to each other than to others. LPNs deserve better than they are getting. We should matter, it isn't about money, but that we are humans, entitled to respect. It must be known that violence is not OK, it is not a part of the job. It has been lonely."

As the report indicates, groups can be moved between classifications. For example, last April, the Treasury Board moved paramedics, who had formerly been with the LPNs in the patient services group, to the medical science professionals group. 

That's what Debra Romero, the executive secretary-treasurer for the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, had hoped would happen with LPNs.

She, too, is surprised that the wishes of the vast majority of the group were dismissed by the labour board. 

"It's a little bit shocking that in 2021 in Canada, in a democratic country, you're just told, 'I don't care how many people want this, you're not getting it,'" said Romero. 

She said the New Brunswick government still has the ability to reclassify LPNs and let them join her organization, which represents 10,000 workers in Atlantic Canada.

In a statement sent on Monday, the Association of New Brunswick Licensed Practical Nurses said the decision has caused "heartache, disappointment, discouragement, and even division among our membership."

But the associations said its members are "capable of withstanding this hurdle and will continue to project the profession on a trajectory to greater heights."

Norma Robinson, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1252, said CUPE will continue to represent licensed practical nurses. (CBC)

And CUPE 1252 will continue to represent LPNs, said the local president, Norma Robinson.

"We are here for all members under our bargaining agent, and we will continue to move forward and work with the members to ensure that they are heard, as we have in the past. And regardless of this decision, we hope that we're able to move forward in a positive manner and continue down the road of representing our members."

But Tompkins said things were already awkward with CUPE before the application and she doesn't expect things will improve now. 

"We're hoping the New Brunswick government will listen to us and reclassify us," said Tompkins, adding that her members have already started writing to their MLAs asking them to support such a move. 

Tompkins said some LPNs are frustrated and considering leaving the profession or the province.

"There's many other provinces that are heavily recruiting in our province right now," she said.

They're offering signing bonuses and covering relocation costs." 

"This could be a very bad situation for our health-care system if a number of LPNs decide that they can no longer continue in this profession. LPNs are on the frontline of healthcare… The province can't afford to lose these LPNs."

"It's not a big request to move us to our own union." 

The government was asked for comment Tuesday afternoon, but did not respond by publication time. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now