10/05/2012 07:42 EDT | Updated 12/05/2012 05:12 EST

B.C.'s practical nurses join nurses' union after 69 per cent vote

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's licensed practical nurses have voted to ditch their union and join the B.C. Nurses Union.

BCNU president Debra McPherson said Friday 7,200 licensed practical nurses voted 69 per cent in favour of the move that has them leaving the Hospital Employees Union.

McPherson said B.C. is now the fourth province, after Nova Scotia, Quebec and Manitoba, to have practical and registered nurses represented by the same union.

"It means we can bring all the family of nursing together, the LPNs and the RNs, to take on workplace issues affecting our ability to deliver quality patient care," she said.

McPherson said the push to have the two nursing groups join forces began about 10 years ago when licensed practical nurses approached the BCNU for membership.

She said the union rejected any such move because it may have been considered raiding the HEU.

Bonnie Pearson, spokeswoman for the HEU, said that's exactly what's happened after a concerted three-year "campaign of misinformation" by the nurses' union, which failed in its first attempt in 2009 to draw practical nurses to its ranks.

"Of course it's a raid," she said. "They've spent a lot, a lot, a lot, and we would say more than one million (dollars) of their members' dues, in this raid."

Pearson said the HEU has represented practical nurses since it became organized in 1944 and continues to represent about 2,000 of the nurses who work in long-term care homes.

Licensed practical nurse Michelle Devia, who worked to get the vote out among her colleagues, said she's ecstatic about the results.

Devia said joining the BCNU means practical nurses will be treated as professionals instead of being part of a union made up mostly of hospital support staff.

She said practical nurses were devastated when their wages were cut by 15 per cent in 2004 after the B.C. government gut a contract with the HEU.

"Basically, ever since then LPNs have been trying really, really, really hard to be recognized as nurses, not just support staff," she said.

"All they deal with is nursing issues and we don't have to fight to have our voices heard," she said of the nurses' union.

Pearson said the HEU has aggressively represented practical nurses, successfully pushing the Health Ministry to expand their scope of practice.

"The number of LPNs working in acute care and in residential care in B.C. has more than doubled in the last decade. That's directly as a result of the advocacy of the Hospital Employees Union."

The B.C. Federation of Labour has also accused the nurses union of raiding another union.