Update: UNA awaits AHS response to application for determination it can represent Alberta Nurse Practitioners

Union anticipates resolution conference on its application with Alberta Labour Relations Board soon

United Nurses of Alberta is awaiting a response from Alberta Health Services (AHS) to its application to the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) for a determination that the union can represent Nurse Practitioners.

When the AHS response has been received by the ALRB, the union anticipates a resolution conference on the application will be scheduled swiftly.

Lawyers acting for UNA filed the application on April 5 after the union was contacted by Nurse Practitioners who wished to be represented in bargaining for terms and conditions of employment.

The application argues the portions of the Alberta Labour Code preventing Nurse Practitioners from being represented by a union violate the right to freedom of association guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The ALRB has authorized UNA to be the bargaining agent for “all employees when employed in direct nursing care or nursing instruction” by Alberta Health Services. Nurse Practitioners employed by AHS in direct nursing and nursing instruction will be part of UNA’s bargaining unit if UNA’s application succeeds. Alberta legislation currently contemplates four bargaining units in health care. A change in Alberta legislation would be required for NPs to be represented by any other union. 

UNA’s request for determination notes that in no other Canadian jurisdiction are Nurse Practitioners precluded from organizing under a provincial labour code or from participating in collective bargaining. The Alberta exclusion resulted from amendments to the Labour Code passed by the provincial Legislature in 2003.

UNA also argues it has a strong community of interest with Nurse Practitioners because Nurse Practitioners must first be RNs, UNA has a long history representing Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses, and Nurse Practitioners share many educational requirements with Registered Nurses. Nurse Practitioners do not share common education, training or a regulatory college with employees in the other three health care bargaining units.

After meeting with leaders of the Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta, UNA will amend its application asking that the LRB freeze all terms and conditions of employment for Nurse Practitioners to prevent the possibility of layoffs during the application period and any subsequent bargaining on behalf of Nurse Practitioners.

Developments in this process will be reported immediately to members of UNA and to Nurse Practitioners employed by AHS while this application moves forward.

AHS employs more than 300 Nurse Practitioners in hospitals, home living, facility living, supportive living, palliative care and as members of Emergency Community Urgent Response Teams.

UNA Nurse Practitioner Application FAQ

Why has UNA applied to act as the union for Nurse Practitioners employed by AHS?

UNA has believed since they were enacted in 2003 that the sections of the Alberta Labour Code preventing Nurse Practitioners from being represented by a union violate the right to freedom of association guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. UNA has now been requested by NPs employed by AHS to act on their behalf.

Why is UNA proceeding with this application at this time?

The request for representation and court decisions affecting the rights of unionized workers both meant that now is an appropriate time to move forward with this application. Since the Alberta Labour Relations Board ruled in 2003 that UNA was the union for AHS employees involved in direct nursing and nursing instruction, an occupational category defined in law that includes RNs, Registered Psychiatric Nurse and Nurse Practitioners, UNA believes it is the only union that is likely to succeed with such an application.

Why is UNA the union for AHS employees in direct nursing?

Legislation passed in 2003 said unionized employees of Alberta’s heath regions would be represented by one of four bargaining units: General Support Services, Auxiliary Nursing, Professional and Paramedical, and Direct Nursing. That structure was passed to AHS in 2008. UNA is the union for Direct Nursing employees. ALRB Bulletin No. 10 covers this question in technical detail.

What if Nurse Practitioners would like to be represented by another organization?

This would require changes to the current legislative regime for bargaining units in the health care sector. The current regime only contemplates four functional bargaining units. It is UNA’s submission that Nurse Practitioners belong in the direct nursing care and nursing instruction bargaining unit and do not belong in the other three bargaining units.

What if my duties as a Nurse Practitioner involve managerial duties? 

The Labour Relations Board’s Bulletin No. 22 deals with such situations. If a Nurse Practitioner’s duties fall into a list of job functions including management of other employees, hiring employees, setting policy and other duties, they would be “excluded” from membership in a union.

Is UNA trying to replace the Nurse Practitioners Association of Alberta?

Absolutely not. The role of unions, professional associations and regulatory colleges are all different, and complimentary. UNA is a union that represents employees in collective bargaining, negotiates appropriate terms and conditions of employment, and works to ensure the contracts it negotiates for its members are adhered to by employers. The NPAA will continue to represent Nurse Practitioners’ professional interests, and the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA) will continue to act as their regulatory college as set out in legislation.

What if I don’t want to join a union?

In Alberta, no one who does not want to join a union is required to do so. If the application succeeds, however, UNA will represent union members and duespayers who chose not to join the union in the same way, as required by the laws of Alberta. If you choose not to join UNA, however, you will not have the right to take part in many union activities. 

What will happen if the Labour Board agrees UNA is the bargaining unit for Nurse Practitioners?

UNA will immediately take steps to commence negotiations with AHS for a formal salary scale for Nurse Practitioners, as well as other issues of concern to Nurse Practitioners, such as hours of work. When an agreement is concluded, these provisions will be included in UNA’s Provincial Collective Agreement. UNA intends that at least two Nurse Practitioners will sit at the negotiating table, representing their colleagues in Northern Alberta and Southern Alberta.

Could Nurse Practitioners end up making less money as a result of the negotiations?

This is extremely unlikely. In the entire history of UNA, no employee has ever had a reduction in pay by being brought into membership in the union. UNA has successfully negotiated the highest rates in pay in Canada for Registered Nurses, Assistant Head Nurses, Instructors, Nurse Clinicians, Clinical Supervisors, Patient Care Co-ordinators, Donor/Recipient Co-ordinators and others. We expect to achieve the same results for Nurse Practitioners.

Will this affect my scope of practice or independence? 

No. UNA recognizes that a Nurse Practitioner's scope of practice and ethical and practice standards are distinct from a Nurse Practitioner’s terms and conditions of employment. 

What should I do if I have more questions?

Call UNA at 780-425-1025 in Edmonton, 1-800-252-9394 in Northern Alberta, 403-237-2377 in Calgary, or 1-800-661-1802 in Southern Alberta. 

Follow the latest updates about United Nurses of Alberta's application to the Labour Relations Boards regarding Nurse Practitioners.