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A cease-and-desist order was issued to the BCNU after one of its members tried to persuade two registered psychiatric nurses to join the BCNU.Oleg Prikhodko/iStockphoto

A tug-of-war in the health-care sector has prompted an order to the B.C. Nurses' Union to stop trying to win over new members while they are on the job.

The B.C. Labour Relations Board issued a cease-and-desist order this month to the BCNU after finding one of its members tried to persuade two registered psychiatric nurses – who were working on a locked psychiatric unit at the time – to join the BCNU.

The recent order is part of a campaign over the past few years in which the 42,000-member BCNU has been trying to expand its membership by signing up workers represented by other unions.

Currently, the BCNU is trying to win the right represent registered psychiatric nurses, or RPNs, who are represented by the Health Sciences Association.

According to the recent Labour Relations Board decision, a BCNU organizer approached two registered psychiatric nurses working in a locked psychiatric unit last November at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. Even though the conversation between the BCNU organizer and the two nurses was brief, it was long enough to be distracting, board associate chair Bruce Wilkins said in his Oct. 6 decision.

"The evidence established that patients in the [Psychiatric Emergency Services] are there because they are suffering from acute mental health issues," Mr. Wilkins said, adding some patients in the unit are brought there by police because they are a danger to themselves or others.

"RPNs work in an environment in which both they and the patients they serve are brought into unacceptable risk when they are distracted from their work by persuasive conduct, which is prohibited by Section 7 of the [Labour Relations] Code," he said in his decision.

The facts in the case were "not as aggravated" as those in an earlier board decision related to BCNU tactics but "the same concerns apply," he said.

That previous decision, released April 17, related to events last November at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. According to that decision, BCNU organizers engaged in campaign activities that violated the labour code, including trying to sign up workers while they were on the job.

"One of the undisputed facts is that BCNU organizers were present on site engaged in organizing activity during a 'Code White' while a psychiatric patient was trying to escape from that ward," the decision said.

In the colour-coding system for B.C. hospitals, Code White refers to aggression.

"This incident illustrates a level of unacceptable danger to vulnerable members of the public who are accessing health services and to [registered psychiatric nurses] themselves," the decision said.

The violations of the labour code were "blatant and willful," the decision said, adding that the BCNU organizers involved were working on behalf of a "large and sophisticated" health-care union.

Nurses, including RPNs, are covered by a provincewide collective agreement. Under the provincial labour code, the BCNU has the right to try to take over from Health Sciences Association as the union representing registered psychiatric nurses during the seventh and eighth month of each contract year.

That raiding window has resulted in numerous cases winding up at the Labour Relations Board.

This is the fourth year that Health Sciences Association has defended itself from raids, its president, Val Avery, said in an e-mail.

"Instead of working with other unions to improve working conditions and wages for people who don't have the advantage of being covered by a union contract negotiated to address things like safety at work, and good family-supporting wages and benefits, the BCNU is on a campaign to increase their membership numbers," Ms. Avery said.

BCNU president Gayle Duteil was not immediately available for comment.

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