It’s the end of an era for the Registered Nurses’ Union of Newfoundland and Labrador.
President, Debbie Forward is set to retire at the end of the year, prompting the union to have a virtual gala Tuesday on Facebook. Forward addressed the union for the final time as President early Tuesday morning.
Forward has been in nursing for 40 years, actively involved in union work for almost all forty, including representing the province’s 5,300 registered nurses and nurse practitioners as their union president for the last 24 years. She’s long been known as a strong leader and a fierce negotiator in dealing with government on her members’ behalf.
As the leader heads into her final days on the job, she describes the feeling as “bittersweet.”
She’s loved working as a registered nurse, and Forward says she has thoroughly enjoyed and been privileged to be able to represent her members for so long. It’s hard to let go, but she’s looking forward to more “me” time and focusing on that self-care she’s been preaching to her members for so many years. Forward’s granddaughter is already excitedly making plans for her.
Forward has a long list of highlights from her career. However, she circles back to the privilege and support of her members for the last 24 years. She says they have been there for her, with her, standing beside her and holding her up when she needed it. Other times, she returned the favour when they needed to be held up.
There have been many accomplishments along the way, and Forward says avoiding a strike in 2009 is near the top of the list, and more recently, convincing government of the need to conduct a core staff review and look at a different model of staffing based on patient acuity.
However, the long and distinguished career didn’t come without its challenges.
Forward says the first strike when she was President in 1999 was difficult as she was just three years into the job, finding her way, and facing a powerful Tobin government. She says from that experience she learned the strength and importance of listening to her members.
The Tobin government legislated nurses’ back to work just 9 days later.
She describes that as demoralizing for both her members and herself as the leader. But Forward says it gave them the opportunity to come together and not be defeated. Some 10-months later, they were able to achieve everything they were on strike for and more.
Forward says you can never accomplish everything, but the organization and incoming leaders are absolutely equipped to take it where it needs to go.
Although she’s walking away after almost two and a half decades, Forward says she will be their biggest champion and always cheering them on from the sidelines and see what the next chapter for RNU will look like.