5 Alberta LPNs’ fight to be classified as ‘direct nurses’ continues as some unions push back

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A group of five licensed practical nurses (LPNs) pushing to have their jobs reclassified as direct nurses is now waiting to hear from the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) on where their fight goes next.

LPNs for Change is the name of the group of nurses. The group’s members are working to have their job classifications changed from auxiliary nurses to direct nurses.

Members of LPNs for Change along with union officials met with officials at the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) on Tuesday so the board could decide if there was enough information to move forward to set a hearing date to determine if LPNs should be reclassified as direct nurses.

The ALRB determined that it needs more responses and evidence in order to schedule a hearing date.

If the ALRB decides a hearing will be held, the hearing date will be determined after the unions that oppose the job reclassification have provided a list of written objections and the group of LPNs provides a written response to the unions.

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Following the written responses, the ALRB will determine if the case will be dismissed or not.

LPNs for Change

LPNs for Change was formed in May 2022 when LPNs were asked to vote on their latest contracts by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

LPNs for Change’s members say their roles have changed drastically over the years and that they now provide direct care to patients.

LPNs for Change logo. COURTESY: LPNs for Change

Direct nurses provide bedside nursing and utilize the standard nursing process: assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation.

The group submitted an application regarding the matter to the ALRB.

LPNs for Change said its application asks to reclassify the positions of 11,800 nurses from auxiliary nursing, a classification it considers similar to a health-care aide or a nurse’s helper, to direct nursing.

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“Why are we not with the rest of the nurses?” was the question that Ginny Wong said she asked herself when she helped form LPNs for Change. LPNs have always been left behind in terms of what we really should be represented by and how we should be represented.

“People have started questioning whether or not we are in the right bargaining unit.”

In order from left to right — Akanksha Gupta, Amy Whitehead, Ginny Wong, Lernora Evans, Quintin Martin. COURTESY: LPNs for Change

The group says it wants to make it clear its members understand the difference between LPNs and registered nurses (RNs). It also notes its members have respect for RNs and in no way mean to diminish their jobs or position.

“We don’t even expect to ever be paid as (RNs are),” said Quintin Martin, another co-founder of LPNs for Change. “We’re doing this because we provide direct nursing and we have for a long time.

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“We want to be recognized as direct nursing care.”

Wong said she believes reclassifying LPNs would provide those nurses with a much-needed confidence boost.

“With the reclassification, we can get the recognition and acknowledgment that we so deserve,” she said. “So then we can build our confidence in saying, ‘We’re nurses (and) we are providing the direct nursing care because that’s what we do day in and day out.

“We are so used to being the second-class (nurse) that we even say that ourselves. In nursing, confidence is really important. We have the skill, we have the education. (But) we need the confidence to properly perform our duty.”

Unions weigh in on push for reclassification

A number of unions that operate in Alberta have made statements regarding the application, and in one case a union has asked for the application to be thrown out entirely.

The AUPE, which represents most LPNs in Alberta, issued a statement regarding the matter on May 31, saying it believes “the application is without merit, is doomed to fail and is a colossal waste of the resources.”

The union has asked the ALRB to dismiss the case.

The AUPE said the group that filed the application represents only a small number of nurses who do not or should not be speaking for all nurses.

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“It is notable that the applicants here are only five LPNs,” the AUPE said. “They explicitly do not purport to speak on behalf of any other LPNs.

“It would be problematic to permit five individuals to upset long-established and stable bargaining units.”

The AUPE also questioned whether reclassifying LPNs would actually address concerns regarding morale and wages.

The United Steelworkers (USW) union said it agrees with the AUPE’s position.

“Our position is that this application is without merit,” the USW said in a written statement on June 9.

“There is no reasonable prospect the application will succeed and no basis for proceeding with full hearing.”

However, the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) has said it agrees with the application and believes the nurses’ argument is valid.

“UNA believes LPNs clearly provide direct nursing care and belong in the ‘direct nursing’ bargaining unit, along with registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses, who also provide direct nursing care,” the union said.

The UNA also said while it had no part in the application,  it supports the movement and encourages the LPNs to keep pushing.

The UNA voicing its support for the group of LPNs has been met with criticism from others in the labour movement, who say they believe the UNA may be trying to bring members of other unions into its organization.

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The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says it has filed a complaint with the Canadian Labour Congress to voice its concerns.

The UNA said that these claims are untrue and that it did nothing wrong by submitting a letter voicing its support of the LPN group’s application.

David Harrigan, the UNA’s director of labour relations, said he finds it very odd that CUPE would even make such a claim.

David Harrigan, director of Labour relations at the United Nurses of Alberta. COURTESY: David Harrigan

“It’s not terribly unusual to have little jurisdictional issues where one union says, you know, ‘That person should be in my bargaining unit and not that bargaining unit,'” he said.

The UNA said its opinion has not changed since more than 10 years ago when it first attempted to reclassify a small group of LPNs and the ALRB dismissed its attempt.

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The two biggest employers of LPNs in Alberta — Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health — have both decided to remain neutral on the matter.

What’s next?

The AUPE is holding telephone town halls for its members later this week to have a “conversation about (LPNs) and the important work (they) do.”

The AUPE and the other objecting unions have until mid-August to provide written reason as to why the application should be dismissed.

The LPNs will then have two weeks to provide written responses to the arguments for dismissal.

The ALRB will then make a decision on whether there will be a hearing or if the case will be dismissed.

LPNs for Change is asking Alberta LPNs to send the group a list of what tasks they complete in their jobs. LPNs for Change also wants RNs and patients who believe LPNs’ jobs involve direct nursing to send letters to the group explaining what LPNs do.

If there is a hearing to determine if the LPNs will be reclassified as direct nurses, LPNs for Change said it suspects that would take place sometime in the fall.  

If the reclassification application is successful, LPNs for Change said LPNs would have three options: stay in the AUPE, be moved to the UNA or a new union would be formed — a decision that would be based on a vote of all Alberta LPNs.

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Harrigan said he believes it is very unlikely the LPNs would form their own union.

I expect if they’re reclassified, there would then be a vote of all of the nurses: the RNs, RPNs (registered psychiatric nurses) and the LPNs,” he said. “And there would likely be a vote to see for that group who they wanted as their union.”

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