The 1976 Strike
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.
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'
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,
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).
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).