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

An application by a group of Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) 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 (ALRB). 

“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 (CUPE) and the United Steelworkers (USW), which represent small groups of LPNs at a few worksites. 

United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), the Registered Nurses (RNs)’ and Registered Practical Nurses (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.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...