In 2011, when Michelle Nelson was faced with staffing and workload issues as an ER nurse, she knew she could get angry, or get informed. She decided to attend a BCNU meeting to voice her concerns and learn more about how the union planned to help. It was her first experience participating in BCNU’s democratic process, but it wouldn’t be her last.
Later that year, Nelson was elected to attend her first convention. There, a colleague recommended she run for a position on the newly-formed Provincial Nominations Committee.
Nelson, who has been practising for 11 years, felt it was time play a larger role in an organization that has been central to ensuring nurses’ rights are protected on the job.
“I put my name in, and I was elected to the committee when it was first established,” she says. “You could say I’ve been pretty involved with the union ever since — I’ve attended every single regional meeting, as well as conventions and bargaining conferences.”
The BCNU Provincial Nominations Committee is an independent body made up of five members who are elected by the delegates to the annual convention of the union. The committee is responsible for conducting BCNU elections and assumes responsibility for all aspects of a fair and transparent election process.
As a member of the committee for the past three elections, Nelson has played a key role in upholding the union’s democratic values. She balances the responsibilities of her job as a community care coordinator and steward-at-large while representing the interests of the membership through her committee work.
“We all are involved in the democratic process, because that’s how BCNU works. It starts with members’ issues that get brought to the elected representatives in the union, which is how we create policies to meet nurses’ needs.”
As committee chair, the responsibilities of the job are significant. Nelson spends about two hours a month on committee work, but her role becomes a full-time job during elections. She says her participation has helped her gain greater awareness of the issues and challenges facing nurses across BC and how the union works to protect its members.
“We all are involved in the democratic process, because that’s how BCNU works. It starts with members’ issues that get brought to the elected representatives in the union, which is how we create policies to meet nurses’ needs,” says Nelson. “We work as a member-driven union, so everything comes from the members in some way.”
Nelson’s years of experience led her to take on the role of committee chair in 2016. While she was hoping it would be “business as usual,” the 2017 election would prove to be one of the most challenging in BCNU history, and Nelson found herself right in the middle of things.
“I wouldn’t ever expect an election to be straightforward because it’s a competition with people trying to win — but the 2017 election was very intense from the get-go,” says Nelson.
In November 2017, an arbitrator determined that the committee acted fairly when it removed three candidates from the ballot for repeated violations of campaign guidelines, which meant that new elections would not be required. Nelson says this decision shows the strength of the union, and the emphasis it places on upholding its democratic values.
“I think the elections are an integral part of BCNU’s democratic process, and the provincial nominations committee is responsible for ensuring a fair and transparent electoral process,” she says, noting her role comes with serious legal responsibility. “If democracy is being challenged, we have to decide how to best protect our democratic values.”
Nelson says BCNU’s support allowed her to juggle the demands and challenges of the 2017 elections process.
“BCNU stood by me during the arbitration process,” she says, noting she was given legal support and time off to prepare for the arbitration hearing on the election. “I really find it valuable to be a member of BCNU, and I think everybody should get involved.”
“I really enjoy being a BCNU member, and I’ve enjoyed my role as chair of the nominations committee. The BCNU is a strong, highly democratic union, and this year we really stood strong together.”