Nurses continue to push for improvements

Nurses continued to bargain hard for improvements in their salaries and conditions. A not so successful attempt involved the nurses at the Hardisty Nursing Home in Edmonton in 1981. The issues included improved wages, working conditions and benefits--the whole works. Hardisty was able to keep the home operating by the use of management nurses and others imported from elsewhere, and the striking nurses eventually found other jobs.

The same year bargaining began again for the new provincial collective agreement and by January 1st of 1982, the UNA was in a strike position again. The nurses wanted dramatic further salary increases as well as to make overtime voluntary, safety measures and 229 other improvements. The government threw a monkey wrench into the proceedings by imposing a Disputes Inquiry Board to hold hearings into the unresolved issues, prohibiting strike action until the report was completed. Penalties for failing to comply included huge fines.

UNA complied with the Disputes Inquiry Board process, but ran into difficulty when the Minister of Labour ordered a government-supervised vote for UNA members to accept or reject the Board recommendations.  The Minister ordered this government-supervised vote to take place on February 11.  UNA had already ordered a UNA vote, compliant with the UNA Constitution, to be held February 12.  UNA directed its members to boycott the government-supervised vote of February 11, and the government threatened to impose the results of the February 11th vote even if only one nurse voted.  The government backed down temporarily and did not impose the results of the few voters in the February 11 vote.  On February 12, UNA members rejected the recommendations.  The law was later changed so that a union's refusal to vote in a government-supervised vote was declared illegal, and the government was given the power to impose their vote results as a settlement of the dispute.

On February 16, 1982, UNA began a legal strike at sixty-nine (69) Alberta Hospitals affecting 6,000  nurses.  UNA represented 8,300 hospital nurses at the bargaining table, but with the implementation of the LRB ruling that some Locals could not reconsider and vote to strike, only 6,000 were actually in a legal position to strike.

The strike dragged on and on. Then, on March 10th, the government passed Bill 11 ordering nurses back to work and establishing another tribunal under Mr. Justice Forsyth. The law included huge penalties, including decertification of the union, and the nurses returned to work on March 11 as ordered.

Mr. Justice Forsyth held 17 days of hearings and brought down his binding award in July of that year that mandated a twenty-nine per cent wage increase over two years, improved scheduling, mandatory overtime, and, what must have been a relief to many nurses, a no-working-alone provision.  

In 1982, there was also a dispute for the nurses working in Health Units, and their employers locked out more than 300 UNA nurses. The lockout affected nurses in locations widely spread around the province, from Leduc to Lethbridge.   The lockout lasted a month and was finally resolved with a negotiated agreement for a 14 per cent wage increase and compensation for lost benefits.

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