The applicants from LPNs for Change: Ginny Wong, Akansha Gupta, Lenora Evans, Amy Whitehead and Quintin Martin (Photo: Facebook/LPNs for Change).

An application by a group of Licensed Practical Nurses for their jobs to be reclassified as part of Alberta’s Direct Nursing Care bargaining unit on the not-unreasonable grounds that direct nursing care is what they provide has been summarily dismissed by the Alberta Labour Relations Board. 

Calgary LPN Quintin Martin with some of the documents used in the effort to get LPNs recognized as providers of direct nursing (Photo: Facebook/LPNs for Change).

“This is not the end because we will appeal,” LPNs for Change vowed last night on the group’s Facebook page. 

The grassroots group that has been fighting since 2022 to be recognized as more than auxiliary nurses, a term they find offensive, pleaded for anyone who “knows or has connections with labour law lawyers, who would like to do some pro bono work, now is the time to send them our way!”

Their frustration is understandable. LPNs are members of a regulated profession and provide direct nursing care. For nearly half a century in Alberta they have been assigned to the Auxiliary Nursing Care Bargaining Unit, which includes many unregulated health care workers.

Over that time, LPNs’ “scope of practice” has grown and the five supporters of LPNs for Change who made the application to the ALRB argued that they feel a community of interest with Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses – a reality acknowledged by the RNs’ and RPNs’ union last June.

“The goal is to just be recognized for what we do,” Calgary LPN Quintin Martin told the CBC in June. “We provide direct nursing care. We just want to be classified with other nurses in the province and we want to follow suit with the other provinces in this country that have done the same.”

The summary dismissal of the group’s application was sought by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents most Alberta LPNs in the so-called Auxiliary Nursing Care bargaining unit, along with the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the United Steelworkers, which represent small groups of LPNs at a few worksites. 

United Nurses of Alberta, the RNs’ and RPNs’ union, supported their application on the grounds that “without qualification, UNA believes nurses who provide direct nursing care deserve to be recognized for their skill and education, their profession, and their work in direct nursing care.”

But in the logic of the three-member ALRB panel that made the decision, what LPNs themselves think or want has nothing to do with the matter.

Applications of the type brought by LPNs for Change – technically known as a reference of a difference – “are best brought by the unions or the employers who operate in the industry,” the panel wrote in the decision released yesterday. “The relevant parties to significant changes sought in relation to the Board’s long-standing health care bargaining unit practices are the parties to the relevant collective bargaining relationships: bargaining units and employers.”

“In the future,” the panel went on, “the Board will no longer accept applications of this nature filed by employees …” 

So it would appear that in the eyes of the ALRB, if you’re an employee, your community of interest is none of your business. It’s all about employers and unions!

In response to the LPNs for Change argument that they want to be part of a bargaining unit with other employees who perform the same work, the panel noted it has already decided that “overlapping functions and performing essentially the same duties do not provide a sufficient basis to justify this kind of significant change to the Board’s long standing practice.”

And as for UNA’s support of the case made by LPNs for Change, “while UNA tried to prop up the absence of a labour relations purpose with one of its own, tied to the essential services regime, we decline to permit UNA to add to the stated labour relations purposes for an application that is not its own.” (Emphasis added.)

In other words, it doesn’t matter if an argument makes labour relations sense, only who makes the argument matters.

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  1. What an asinine bureaucratic decision from the panel.

    Do you have insight as to why the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees sought a dismissal of the group’s application?

    1. PJP: No union wants to lose 6 or 7 per cent of its members in one fell swoop. This is understandable and it is what the effect or declaring LPNs to be in the Direct Nursing Care bargaining unit would have been. But the plain fact is that the supposedly rational health care “functional bargaining units” introduced by the Board about 50 years ago and entrenched in legislation by the Progressive Conservative government in 2003 have increasingly made less sense as scopes of practice have changed and as governments have meddled in labour relations. The obvious fact is that LPN and RN scopes of practice overlap considerably, and that LPNs and RNs are both involved in direct nursing. Everybody, the Board, the government, all the unions and nurses themselves know this is true. Putting LPNs in the auxiliary care bargaining unit is only done to benefit other more-powerful groups – employers back in the day, who saw an advantage in dividing a community of interest and a large union now that wants to hang onto a group of members who clearly wish to be represented by another union. AUPE understands that that law in Alberta and the size of the bargaining unit and the fact that the LPNs are only a small part of it means an organizing drive by LPNs to vote to be part of another union is literally impossible, so the LPNs are stuck with AUPE no matter what short of a successful appeal to the courts (and, realistically, who is going to pay for that?) or a change in legislation (unlikely because the UCP hates all unions with equal passion and totally misunderstands how labour relations work). This is a cowardly and unfair decision, which if you ask me based on my experience 20 years ago in the Calgary Herald strike is standard operating procedure for the ALRB. DJC

  2. I’ve tried to answer my own question – Upon a close read of the ruling I see the panel’s reasons included: historically that’s how it’s been done, fears that moving the LPNs out would lead to other groups to look for “greener pastures”, and letting the LPNs leave would effectively gut the ANC.

    With your experience in these matters, do you see credence to these reasons?

    1. PJP: I think the ALRB is a timid organization that historically has tried to make decisions that keep employers and the government sweet. That was a problem in this case because the employers and the government didn’t really give them a hint of what they wanted, so the Board opted to go with what its done in the past, despite the fact that it doesn’t make labour relations sense. They’ve certainly made it clear in this case that they don’t give a sh*t about what employees think. It’s all about institutions – government, employers, and unions, in that order. I think that the treatment of LPNs by governments, employers and most unions has always driven by the attitude that while there was an international market for the services of Registered Nurses, historically the market for LPN services has been more regional. That may not be true any more. I think the attitude displayed toward LPNs by AUPE when this started was shocking and communicated clearly that AUPE didn’t value that segment of its membership. They have tried since to repair that damage, but I doubt that has gone very far with the bulk of its LPN members. Just read the comments from LPNs under the LPNs for Change Facebook post and you’ll see what I mean. Finally, I wasn’t sure what you meant by ANC. Did you mean AUPE? DJC

        1. MW: Sorry, this is what fatigue will do to you. All I could think of was African National Congress, the South African political party. I was confused as well, though, by PJP’s talk of the the ANC bargaining unit being gutted by the loss of LPNs. On the contrary, though, I’m pretty sure the LPNs are the smallest component of the Auxiliary Nursing unit, all of which is represented by AUPE. DJC

          1. Actually LPN’s are the largest in numbers of the ANC portion of Aupe. They outnumber their health care aide/other aides significantly and hold the majority vote within their bargaining committee (around 14000 LPNs to 9000 HCA’s within AHS) and LPN job growth within Alberta is outpacing RN’s and HCA’s. That’s why a large portion of LPNs are not in agreement with this push to separate from AUPE, even though they agree that LPN’s provide direct nursing care. It’s become clear that this reference of a difference submitted to the ALRB if passed would results in a change in unions to UNA where LPN’s would be outnumbered and in the minority when it comes to voting power during contract negotiations.

          2. Sarah: I’ll take your word for it about the ratio of LPNs to HCAs at AUPE, although I would have thought the number of HCAs was much higher. But things may have changed since I worked at AUPE. I can’t speak to the makeup of the bargaining committee off hand tonight. But I would think that 14,000 LPNs in AUPE’s membership sounds too high, more like the number of LPNs in the province. AHS employs about 8,000 LPNs according to its website, and Covenant Health, for which I couldn’t find a number, should have about 1,200 if you go the same percentage of its workforce. Of course, there will be some more at private nursing homes and the like, but not all will be unionized. I’ll update this comment if I get more numbers in the near future. DJC

      1. Taken from the panel document to which you linked:

        Auxiliary Nursing Care (ANC)

        As in “don’t wanna” switch LPNs from ANC units to DNC units

  3. I’m surprised that the unions are so territorial, at this point. The fact that the Labour Board is brain dead? That doesn’t surprise me.

  4. I’m disappointed by this decision. The ALRB decision is bad enough; it comes across as mere legalistic hair-splitting. But the unions’ responses look much worse.

    From the UNA statement:

    “[T]he ALRB requested all stakeholders send their views. AUPE, CUPE, and USW were all opposed [to the request by LPNs for reclassification]. The largest employers, Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health, remained neutral.

    “In addition to the matters before the ALRB, CUPE has sent a letter to the Canadian Labour Congress asking that UNA be sanctioned for “raiding,” because it responded to a request from the ALRB seeking its position on this question, which has always been that LPNs belong in the Direct Nursing Care Bargaining Unit. At no time has UNA attempted to raid any of the unions representing LPNs in Alberta.”

    So there you have it. Best-case scenario, LPNs for Change hasn’t tried, or hasn’t tried effectively, to engage with the unions they’re registered in. Worst case, AUPE, CUPE—especially CUPE–and USW are apparently scared of losing union dues.

    Unions are businesses, too, I guess. But this dog-in-the-manger attitude looks very, very bad.

  5. One ought never underestinate the “politcs” of unions. It is strange one union would object to the LPNs joining another union, which would make more sense. It may have something to do with impending strikes or strikes which are not pending but could happen. It won’t be just about the loose of members. There is usually something going on in the back ground no one much talks about.
    In B.C. the LPNs joined the RNs close to 10 years ago or so. As a patient with the new system worked wonderfully well. It was the LPN who noticed something was off and upp eventually the cardiologist agreed. What made this interesting was I’d been at a major Vancouver hospital for a full slate of tests and declared: No Problem.
    Its really in no one’s interest to keep the LPNS out of the Nurses Union, except perhaps management’s.

  6. There’s a widespread assumption in this entire discussion that had the ALRB ruled that LPNs belonged in the Direct Nursing Care bargaining unit, they would automatically have been part of UNA. However, my reading of the Labour Relations Code would suggest otherwise. Since the number of employees transferred between the two bargaining units would amount to over 10% of the total population of the newly expanded bargaining unit, the Board would most likely order a representation vote amongst all employees in the bargaining unit — RNs & RPNs as well as LPNs — in which UNA would most likely be only one of several contenders to represent the unit.

    Now, I feel it would be improper for me to predict here the likelihood that UNA would win that vote versus some other competitor, including AUPE, but every vote has its uncertainties. Therefore there is no guarantee that the outcome of such a decision would automatically result in LPNs at AHS & Covenant becoming part of UNA.

    1. Jerry: Past ALRB practice would suggest that the only unions in such a vote would be AUPE and UNA (the 80/20 rule from 2003). As for which union would win, I’ll leave you to your doubts. I have none. DJC

  7. I think the LPN’s are in the same union as RN’s and RPN’s in BC. I believe that LPN’s are still paid far less than RPN’s and RN’s. So, would moving to DCN help LPN’s here in Alberta?

    1. NJ: You are right that LPNs and RNs are in the same union in B.C. Whether all of them are, I don’t know off hand. All LPNs at Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health are represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees because they are classified as being in the Auxiliary Nursing Care (ANC) Bargaining Unit. All Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses employed by AHS and Covenant are members of United Nurses of Alberta because they are classified as being in the Direct Nursing Care (DNC) Bargaining Unit. These so-called “functional bargaining units” were invented by the Alberta Labour Relations Board and have been enshrined in law as far as public sector employers go since 2003. In my opinion, it is obvious, as everyone involved admits, that under their current scope of practice, LPNs provide direct nursing cate. If it makes sense to have functional bargaining units, it makes sense for LPNs to be in Direct Nursing. Full disclosure, I am now an employee of UNA and used to be employed by AUPE, so I’m not going to offer an opinion on whether moving to Direct Nursing Care would benefit LPNs. I do believe, though, that that is what most LPNs think. DJC

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