Nurses defy law with province-wide strike
In the fall of 1987 hospital employers, well-aware that nurses
now had no legal right to strike, tabled massive rollbacks and
takeaways going in to bargaining After reporting to the membership,
the UNA organized a vote on the employers' last offer for January
22nd with the ballot reading, "Are you willing to go on strike
for an improved offer?" not
forgetting that strikes for hospital workers had been declared illegal
by Bill 44. Legal wrangling resulted and the Labour Relations Board
the UNA not to proceed with the vote (at three o'clock in the morning),
as even the strike question on the ballot would be considered a strike
threat and illegal. Nurses were outraged when they were told they
could not even hold a vote on a strike. UNA went ahead with the
vote at seven a.m. the next morning and nurses voted overwhelmingly
and served notice that the illegal strike would begin on January
The strike did indeed begin--involving ninety-eight hospitals and
fourteen thousand nurses and including the three Crown hospitals
which never had had the right to strike, so were now in the same
boat as the others.
Legal action began immediately and the Labour Relations Board
issued a cease and desist order, and then filed its rulings on "threatening
to strike" and "causing a strike" with the Courts. This process
of filing LRB orders with the Courts, where they were automatically
stamped as court orders, opened the way for later charges of contempt
of Court. Contempt of court proceedings against both the UNA and
individual nurses were begun shortly thereafter.
Unions from across Canada began sending telegrams and letters
of support, and followed shortly afterward with cheques. Mr. Dave
Werlin, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, supported
the striking nurses and promised that "Alberta workers would not
let UNA go under financially".
On January 26, 1988, a permanent court injunction against picketing
at the three Crown hospitals was granted by the Courts. Over
1,000 nurses responded by picketing those hospitals.
On January 27, 1988, individual nurses began to be served with
civil contempt of Court charges. By the end of the strike
over 75 such individual charges would be laid and heard. Nurses
were also threatened with graduated discipline, up to and including
The government charged UNA with criminal contempt of court. The
government requested a $1 million fine and sequestration (seizure)
of all the union's assets. On February 9, UNA paid the first criminal contempt
fine. At the end of the strike, including all the individual fines
UNA paid nearly half a million dollars in fines, the largest fines
every paid by a union in Canada. Unions and individuals from
across the country supported the nurses courageous stand and generous
solidarity contributions paid most of the huge fine bills.
UNA appealed the contempt fines all the way to the Supreme Court of
Canada, but finally the appeal was turned down.
High-pressure negotiations also continued even as the judges were
leveling fines. A settlement was reached and UNA took it to the
striking nurses. On February 12th, UNA members accepted the employers'
improved offer and the settlement was reached. The nurses returned
to work the next day February 13th, after an 18 day strike. The
settlement was termed a "tread water" deal, the employers rollbacks
and takeaways were dropped, but the nurses had not made significant
gains. The benefits were reaped in the 1990 round of negotiations
when employers showed a much greated respect for nurses and the