Inception of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses

In October of 1973, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that Staff Nursing Associations (SNAs) "could not be certified as bargaining agents if the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association (SRNA) was involved in their formation or operation" (You Can't Eat Dedication: A History of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, Slater-Smith, 24). In the original battle, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) took a complaint to the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board, "and argued that the Nipawin SNA should not be certified because the SRNA would be its bargaining agent and the SRNA's executive council was dominated by nurses holding management positions. How could an organization led by nurses who held management jobs adequately represent the interests of staff nurses?" (Slater-Smith, 22).

Following this groundbreaking decision, "the SRNA moved immediately to divest itself of association with any labour organization or activity" (Slater-Smith, 25). Nurses now needed a new body for collective bargaining. On November 17, 1973, representatives of various SNAs met in Saskatoon to discuss their options. "The meeting appointed a steering committee to examine alternatives enabling nurses to maintain their autonomy. The committee was to recommend the most suitable alternatives and prepare a proposed constitution for circulation to all SNAs in preparation for the next meeting" (Slater-Smith, 30).

The steering committee analyzed what other groups had done and decided to adopt a constitution similar to the Ontario Nurses' Association. It was at a meeting to discuss the steering committee's report that nurse Edna Button moved to form a labour organization. The motion was unanimously approved. Saskatchewan officially had a nurses' union.

The constitution for the newly formed union "provided the province be divided into eight regions each with representation to the board of directors...Monthly membership fees were set at $2 a member, and the $1 monthly fee to cover the cost of negotiations would continue until negotiations ended" (Slater-Smith, 32).

Almost immediately following its birth, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) entered into job action for the first time. This strike was successful in that nurses made significant gains with respect to what they were requesting from employers. The wage increase amounted to 34% over the next two years, and the traditional 25 per cent "spread" between the registered nurses and the certified nursing assistants was almost re-established with the gap now approximately 20%. Another important outcome of the strike was the inclusion of part-time and casual nurses in the collective agreement. The success of this job action set the tone for the next few years of SUN's history and established the union as a legitimate collective bargaining agent.
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