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March 18, 2022

Silas: Now more than ever, solidarity among nurses is essential

Canadian Labour Congress

Dear CFNU members,

Now more than ever, solidarity among nurses is essential.

I have been a union activist since 1984. During this time, I have seen many ups and downs within our movements, but I have never seen our workforce so tired, burnt out or downright broken. The nursing shortage, the effects of which have been especially pernicious these last two years, is having a devastating toll on nurses.

The challenges we face are persistent and complex, but they are surmountable. By sticking together – by acting as a united voice – we can effect change. That is why, on March 14, 2022, the CFNU board members unanimously voted to start the process of having BCNU re-join our federation.

The CFNU has a long and proud history. Since 1981, we have collaborated with health care unions irrespective of whether they pay us dues. We’ve done this because these critical linkages could only strengthen our advocacy for nurses. Indeed, since day one of the pandemic, we brought BCNU and other health care unions to the table and acted as a task force to keep health care workers safe. We openly and freely shared our knowledge and expertise on a wide range of topics, including infection prevention and control strategies.

This spirit of collaboration and solidarity is at the heart of the labour movement. Indeed, this is why the CFNU has long been a proud member of the Canadian Labour Congress. To strengthen our collective voice – to advocate more efficaciously – we need to mend old wounds, work towards unity and move forward.

For the CFNU, this means being a national voice for all nurses.

To do this, we must confront the past. BCNU left our federation, in 2012, following accusations that its campaign to attract licensed practical nurses amounted to raiding, under the CLC Constitution. As a longtime member of the CLC’s executive committee and Canadian council, I can confidently say that our goal has always been to strengthen members’ relationships with their union, promote effective representation, and, as a last resort, provide a fair process to change unions when necessary. In 2019 alone, the CLC received 15 complaints related to raiding. Even the CFNU was raided on two occasions and has twice been accused of raiding.

These events are long in the rear-view mirror. As a board, we recognized that a more productive and fruitful discussion could be had by creating a pathway to re-entry as opposed to maintaining a perpetual exile. In the labour movement, just like in life, we must create supportive environments where history can be acknowledged and redemption can be achieved.

Given the enormous challenges facing health care workers, this moment calls for unity. Nurses are counting on us, as are the millions of Canadians who depend on a robust and universal health care system.

There simply is too much at stake to remain moored to the status quo.

My dearly departed father used to tell me: “Linda, always remember who pays your salary.” For me, that is CFNU members. Each decision I make – each decision that our national executive board makes – is done with you in mind. At this time, I’m acutely aware of the increasing pressures facing nurses. Nationally, a crippling nursing shortage continues to grow unabated. As our decision-makers continue to ignore the problem, it is nurses who are left to carry the weight of the health care system on their shoulders, working themselves ragged in the process. Meanwhile, in the face of untenable working conditions, more nurses are looking to call it quits.

There’s no sugar-coating it: this is a full-blown crisis.

I am laser-focused on this issue – on safeguarding our health care system and the dedicated health care workers at its heart. This is where our attention belongs, not on re-litigating the past.

The CFNU has earned a solid reputation in political circles and among members of the press. We regularly meet with decision-makers at all levels of government and have cemented our organization as an authoritative and influential producer of research. This work can only be enhanced by ensuring that our voice is truly representative of all nurses across Canada.

Nurses have built a national organization that they can be proud of. As your national executive board, we hope you will stand with us and support our journey towards ever greater unity.

Linda Silas, President
Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions