New Brunswick's licensed practical nurses are so fed up with working conditions that they're leaving for greener pastures elsewhere, according to their professional association.
In less than two weeks since losing an application with the province's labour board, 17 LPNs have decided to leave New Brunswick, confirms JoAnne Graham, the registrar of the Association of New Brunswick Licensed Practical Nurses.
In order to work outside the province, LPNs have to apply to the association to transfer their licence to another province.
The majority of those who applied for transfers in the last two weeks are going to Nova Scotia, where LPNs are paid $5 more per hour than in New Brunswick.
Graham said LPNs are being lured away by more than just higher wages and sign-up bonuses. They're also leaving for jurisdictions that allow them to do all the things they were trained to do — something Graham refers to as the "optimization of the scope of practice."
And they're also disappointed by the recent decision of the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board, says Marc Paradis, an LPN from Moncton who helped lead the effort to leave CUPE.
He says he doesn't blame colleagues who have decided to accept better offers outside the province.
"Morale is getting really low," he said.
And the number of LPNs considering leaving is a lot higher than the 17 who actually applied to the registrar to leave.
According to a letter the LPN group has sent to the province, more than 1,000 LPNs have "indicated that they are going to either: resign, retire, move down to a PSW (less responsibilities and same pay) or leave for another province."
And that's just since the labour board decision on Jan. 8. That number also represents about half of LPNs who work for the province's health authorities and are represented by CUPE 1252.
Paradis said more than 85 per cent of LPNs want to leave CUPE and join the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers, a local of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (ACRC).
At a series of hearings held last year, LPNs testified that they were unhappy with CUPE's representation.
[We're] tired of telling our colleagues to remain calm as we have seen no significant movement or interest on the government's end. - Christene Smith
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.
LPNs are members of CUPE's "patient services" group, along with 28 other classifications.
Once the labour board rejected the application by the LPNs and the union they wanted to join, LPNs started a letter-writing campaign to MLAs, asking them to support a reclassification of their union that would allow them to leave CUPE and join the ACRC.
Earlier this week, organizers Nicole Tompkins and Christene Smith sent a letter to Premier Blaine Higgs and other ministers on behalf of LPNs across the province.
The letter calls on the province to either pass new legislation or amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act to allow them to switch unions.
"This is what LPNs across New Brunswick want. We want a legislative amendment to classify LPNs as their own stand-alone group. We do not want to go down the route of the Paramedics whereby a reclassification is done and challenged by CUPE …"
As for the more than 1,000 LPNs who are thinking about leaving the province or the profession, Smith and Tompkins say they've managed to "convince most of them" to hold off on doing anything drastic.
"While we are sick and tired of not having the representation that we desire, Nicole and I are also tired of telling our colleagues to remain calm as we have seen no significant movement or interest on the Government's end. Flowery emails about the importance of LPNs to New Brunswick will not cut it," wrote Smith.
"Imagine having to go to work every day as a nurse during a pandemic (that is getting worse as we are now in the red zone) and not being able to even have the right to choose which union you belong to."
The group has asked for a meeting with government officials.
The Department of Health, which was sent a copy of the LPNs' letter, was asked Thursday afternoon for a comment, but no response was received from the department spokesperson by publication time.
Paradis said the group hasn't received any concrete answers about a meeting.
"We're not confident about the response as of yet. But we hope that soon we will be able to talk," he said.
Paradis explained that the 2,000 LPNs who work for the province's health authorities are currently grouped with 8,000 other hospital workers, including housekeeping, clerical and maintenance personnel — and not with the majority of health-care professionals that they have more in common with.
"Right now, we're classified as 'patient services.' And we want to be classified as 'patient-care workers,' because that's what we are," he said.
And when it comes to negotiating power, he said their relatively low number of voices can be muted by the will of the majority.
"That's why we would like our own bargaining team," said Paradis.
Graham said the association would like to see LPNs in New Brunswick be paid the same as their colleagues in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, but that the concerns go beyond salary.
She said the responsibility of LPNs has increased over the years along with the training requirements. What was once a one-year diploma was increased to 18 months in 2005, and to two years in 2012.
But even since 2012, many LPNs were not allowed to perform all of the tasks they had been trained to do. And even when the government was desperate for nurses and increased the scope of practice for LPNs, Graham said their pay did not increase.