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Nurses' union faces rank and file rebellion

The BC Nurses Union is already suspended from provincial and national labour umbrella groups in response to a controversial attempt to raid another health care union’s membership.

It's now confronted with a rank and file rebellion among some of its own member, the Tyee has learned.

Insurgent nurses are circulating a petition condemning recent steps taken by BCNU leadership to launch a raid on the Hospital Employees Union. It also calls for an emergency convention of union membership to debate and vote on the raid.

The petition claims “These changes are being rammed through without a membership vote. The BCNU 2009 convention made no decisions, as the leadership chose not to introduce any resolution calling for the LPN sign up. There has been no resolution. There has been no membership-wide discussion. There has been no membership vote.”

The petition claims that an “overwhelming majority of the South Fraser Valley region adopted a motion calling on BCNU to stop the LPN raid until there has been a union-wide discussion and membership referendum.”

The petition, launched in mid October, will be filed with BCNU leadership sometime in mid to late November, according to sources close to the project. It is signed by 13 BCNU members.

According to the petition text, if the activists sign up 1,000 BCNU members, it will trigger an emergency convention. Contacted by the Tyee, several of the petition sponsors indicated they were unwilling to speak to media about the petition until it is formally lodged with their leadership in November.

Retired BCNU activist Sandy Bauer served as a shop steward for two decades and represented her union on the Squamish and District Labour Committee for eleven years. She told the Tyee in a recent phone interview that she was “embarrassed” by the raid on HEU.

“I absolutely want the raid cancelled,” she said on October 28. “What we’re doing here makes me physically ill.”

BCNU president Debra McPherson spoke to the Tyee by phone on the morning of October 29. She confirmed the petition’s claim that her union had not conducted a vote to mandate the current raid on HEU. And that the South Fraser Valley region of BCNU had passed a resolution demanding a membership vote on the raid.

But she said her union’s membership endorsed a constitution in the 1990s that called for organizing “nurses and other allied health care workers.”

She also told the Tyee that recent polling of members, which she called “cultural research,” supported her decision to try to enlist licensed practical nurses from other unions into the BCNU.

“The authors of the petition,” she said, “are playing into some nurses’ fears. Nevertheless, the leadership of this union is totally open to debate. If the petition gets 1,000 signatures, it will trigger a special convention. But we have a regular convention scheduled for March, and I’m not sure we would be able to find a venue and arrange a special convention before then.”

Tom Sandborn welcomes feedback and story tips at [email protected]

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