The 1976 Strike

The birth of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) in Saskatchewan ushered in a new era for the nursing profession in Saskatchewan. No longer did nurses have to sit idly by when they wanted to see changes. Despite the gains from the early strike, many nurses entered into the new union with trepidation. Many considered the word 'union' a dirty word. They felt that nursing was a selfless profession that would belittle itself by creating a union to bargain for more money. With the inception of SUN however, many nurses changed their tune and realized that the union was about more than money.

The first few years that SUN was in existence proved to be extremely successful. "By the end of 1975, SUN had accomplished many of its important goals, ensuring its future as a vigorous and forceful labour organization. Certification had been obtained and the Saskatchewan Healthcare Association (SHA) had recognized SUN as the bargaining agent of nurses" (Slater-Smith, 42). With the success of the union negotiations in 1974, SUN had gained the respect of many of Saskatchewan's nurses and had established itself as one of the largest unions in the province. Not only were monetary gains made in SUN's first-ever round of negotiations, but gains were also made with respect to working conditions. The latter showed doubters what the union was capable of in advancing nurses' rights. "More and more nurses recognized the protection a union provided for them, both at the workplace and from the effects of a highly inflationary economy" (Slater-Smith, 45).

1976 negotiations saw nurses fighting for pay equity with Alberta nurses. Nurses struck for ten days, after eighty-eight percent of the membership voted in favour of strike action. When the new contract was ratified, nurses had gained a twenty-two percent increase in wages, every third weekend off and a seven and three-quarter-hour day (down from eight hours).

What is particularly interesting about the 1976 round is the shift in thinking on the part of many nurses. They had come to realize that being part of a union didn't have to lessen their professionalism.

The 1976 strike had taught SUN some important lessons. Perhaps most significantly nurses realized that the hospital system would not completely collapse when nurses withdrew services. The system would react; scale down patient loads, amalgamate services and organize sufficient support and medical staffing to handle almost any situation. With this realization the struggle between professionalism and unionism had firmly taken root. The solidarity of the membership was unquestionable and SUN's negotiations committee could deliver when the need arose (Slater-Smith, 57).