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Osoyoos nurse Gayle Duteil scores upset victory for union presidency
An Osoyoos woman has become the new president of the 42,000-member B.C Nurses Union (BCNU) in an upset victory.
Gayle Duteil, a nurse at South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH), defeated long-time union president Debra McPherson in a March 31 vote by union membership.
Duteil has lived in Osoyoos since becoming patient care coordinator at SOGH in 2010. She said she plans to keep her home in Osoyoos as a second residence although the new full-time position requires her to be in the Lower Mainland.
“I will continue living in Osoyoos, but I will be based in Vancouver,” she said. “I will be back and forth and across the province really. It’s wherever nurses need me.”
One factor in her victory, she said, was that nurses in the B.C. Interior and north sometimes feel the BCNU doesn’t reach beyond the Lower Mainland.
“I certainly hope to bring a different perspective than that and so I will be travelling across the province attending to nurses issues,” she said.
Duteil chose her words carefully and avoided directly criticizing her predecessor McPherson, but she indicated that union membership wanted a change.
“I think that leadership was not quite as in touch as they could be,” she said, adding that her recent experience as a working nurse was an important factor in her win.
“I think the fact that I am a working nurse [helped],” she said. “I will continue to remain a working nurse. I will do the odd shift to stay connected to what it’s like to work a 12- or 16-hour day in the emergency department or acute care. Many times a week nurses are requested to work 16-hour shifts due to staffing shortages.”
Despite her last four years as a working nurse, Duteil has a long background with the union.
She first became involved during a long nurses strike in 1989 when she became a BCNU steward.
Since then, she has worked as a labour relations officer with the union, later assuming the position of director of labour relations in 2002. From 2005 to 2010, she served as executive director of BCNU.
“I think the fact that I have experience with the BCNU as well as working nurse experience appealed to the membership,” she said. “The combination of spending 16 years with B.C. Nurses Union and then returning to the bedside as a practicing registered nurse, that was a good combination for the membership to put their support behind me.”
Among the issues the health system is facing is that patients are sicker when they are in hospital and they can no longer spend two weeks in hospital recovering.
“You are out very quickly and so acute care units and community nurses are facing workloads that are unmanageable and yet the geriatric population of British Columbia is changing and that means different needs,” she said.
Duteil will need to be up and running quickly in her new position – the collective agreement expired March 31.
“We’re going into bargaining,” she said. “That is the priority for any union – bargaining a strong collective agreement for members. I look forward to doing that and working collectively with our team, with the B.C. Nurses Union to reach a successful collective agreement with the government and the health authorities.”