Government makes it
illegal for hospital nurses to strike
In 1983, the Alberta government
took away the hospital nurses' legal right to strike with Bill 44. The law
provided for compulsory arbitration to resolve bargaining issues and it provided
for heavy fines and the suspension of union dues for nurses if they dare
go on strike. UNA nurses were outraged by the law and pointed out that it
violated their basic human rights. Moreover, the forced arbitration almost
totally removed any incentive for employers to actually negotiate with nurses.
The nurses adopted a defiant policy of refusing arbitration and insisting
that only they would determine if and when they would take job action.
Bill 44 didn't cover the
Health Unit workers and when the 1985 round of negotiations with the Health
Unit Association of Alberta (HUAA) and other employers in the Alberta West
Central Health Unit included major "takeaways",
ten UNA health units began a legal strike. At the same time the Victorian
Order of Nurses in Calgary began a strike for better wages and working conditions,
but were foiled in their efforts when the employer unilaterally decided not
to provide nursing services to its clients. The nurses were forced to find
The negotiations with
the Health Units Association got complicated in terms of who was at which
bargaining table and some groups arrived at accepted negotiated settlements
earlier than others. Eventually, by late 1985 five of the bargaining units
were covered and the striking nurses in Alberta West Central celebrated by
publishing a cookbook entitled Strike One.
For the other five units it was January of 1986 before the dust had cleared.
The point had been made, though, that takeaways and rollbacks were not acceptable
and the nurses did receive a small wage increase. It wasn't until 1990 that
this group received a large wage increase that gave them parity with the hospital
As a result of the differences in settlement times and the additional complications
of some employers offering to top up earlier settlements to the later settlement
standards, nurses at three of the Health Units left the UNA.