Introduction of Collective Bargaining to Saskatchewan (Staff Nurses Associations)

In the full scope of nursing history, collective bargaining is a relatively new phenomenon. For a long time, the words "collective bargaining" and "union" were almost unspeakable in nursing circles. In Saskatchewan, collective bargaining units did not exist until the 1960s when Staff Nursing Associations (SNAs) were formed. SNAs were created as bodies through which nurses could express grievances.   Representatives from the SNAs would sit on bargaining committees and would take grievances from nurses to the hospital administration.

An SNA could be formed only if the majority of nurses employed in a hospital voted in favour of establishing a bargaining unit. Then, once an SNA was formed it had to get recognition from the employer. This could be achieved in one of two ways: voluntary recognition or certification. Voluntary recognition meant the employer would voluntarily recognize the SNA's right to bargain on behalf of the hospital's nurses and would enter into negotiations. But, if the employer was opposed to collective bargaining and refused to recognize the SNA, then the SNA would have to apply to the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board asking the Board to exercise it's authority under the Trade Union Act to declare the SNA an appropriate bargaining unit. If the application was approved, the employer would be required by the act to recognize the SNA and would be compelled to participate in negotiations (Slater-Smith, 15).

Seeing the need for a stronger collective bargaining agent, the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA) created the position of Employment Relations Officer in 1967. "The job was primarily to represent nurses in employment matters but also involved teaching nurses about the process of collective bargaining and participating in contract negotiations" (Slater-Smith, 14). Ann Sutherland, a nursing consultant, was hired to do the job.

As Sutherland absorbed the intricacies of labour relations, the SRNA hired a Calgary labour consultant, Ken Barrass, to prepare the groundwork for provincial collective bargaining. Seminars held in four major centres in October, 1967, attracted about 1,000 nurses who heard the advantages of bargaining explained by Barrass and the Canadian Nurses' Association's social and economic welfare consultant, Glenna Roswell of Ottawa. Barrass told nurses there was nothing wrong with the collective bargaining process, provided the exercise was performed in an intelligent and ethical manner. He cautioned nurses against behaviour associated with irresponsible trade union performance and said nurses should make their requests in a reasonable and logical fashion validated by facts. He stressed he did not want to be associated with strike action by nurses (Slater-Smith, 14).

Nurses found their voice through the establishment of their SNAs. From that point, collective bargaining for nurses in Saskatchewan underwent a rapid evolution until 1974 when nurses, under their newly minted union, took job action for the first time.