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How an LPN Became an ONA Bargaining Unit Leader

“My passion is just to help people,” Justin Kuunifaa, LPN, says. “I’m a caregiver, and I enjoy doing it. I love doing it.”

Every day, Justin knows he can make a difference in someone’s life. He’s “very lucky and privileged” to be part of the team at Multnomah County Health Department’s Southeast Health Center, one of seven Portland-area clinics run by the county. At these clinics, registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) work closely together to provide low-cost primary health care to families and individuals who are uninsured and living on a low income. Every one of these patients deserves excellent care, delivered with kindness and a smile. “That’s one of my main drives,” Justin says. “Being given the opportunity to help people who are underprivileged […] makes me really happy.”

As an LPN, Justin has been part of the Oregon Nurses Association’s (ONA’s) two-year trial to represent allied health workers alongside RNs at Multnomah County. Since 2016, LPNs, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants in ONA’s Multnomah County bargaining unit have been allowed to join ONA as part of a pilot project to allow the entire bargaining team to deliver excellent patient care. “Working together,” Justin says, “to me would be the main tool in providing great care to our clients.”

As a proud ONA union member, Justin volunteers his time to advocate for his colleagues. In 2016 the bargaining unit elected him to serve on its executive committee, where he is membership co-chair. He’s also part of the bargaining team currently negotiating with the county for a fair contract that supports and protects all members of the bargaining unit regardless of licensure.

Teamwork between caregivers is crucial at Multnomah County. At every facility in the bargaining unit, workloads can heavy and getting it all done requires communication and coordination. At the Southeast clinic, LPNs and RNs are constantly triaging tasks and covering each other’s duties as time and scope allow to make sure patients are healthy, safe, and satisfied. “Those are things that all nurses share,” Justin says, “and I wouldn’t speak for [just] LPNs or just RNs—I’m speaking in terms of nurses overall.”

At ONA’s House of Delegates on April 20, 2018, RNs will vote on a change to ONA’s bylaws that would give RNs across the state the option to organize alongside their allied health worker colleagues. In the meantime, during this trial period for allied health workers at Multnomah County, when does he feel most like a true ONA member? “All day, every day,” he says.

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