first major setback.
its first few years, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) experienced a great
deal of success for such a new entity. There would come a time, however,
when it would have to lose its first battle. It happened in 1978.
strike in 1976, SUN's membership, "seemed satisfied with ...contracts and with
the union's operation. Few contentious issues were raised at the annual
meeting in March 1977 and there were no concerns about the union's administration" (Slater-Smith,
59). Al Shalansky, SUN Chief Executive Officer attributed the
quiet in 1977 to exhaustion after the last round of negotiations. SUN's
leadership was not ready for another fight, but by only signing a one-year
contract in 1976 SUN had set itself up for negotiations in only one year's
Improvements in hours
of work and wages were SUN's 1978 primary objectives. Research
had shown many nurses were working up to 10 consecutive days without a day
off and that days off were grouped at the beginning and end of shift rotations...In
1978 wage levels had once again become a major issue. A Co-operative
Wage Study conducted by Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Service Employees
International Union, and the Saskatchewan Healthcare Association reclassified
Certified Nursing Assistants(CNAs) upward, equal to orderlies, which resulted
in wage increases for CNAs retroactive to 1976. Overnight the wage differential
between CNAs and registered nurses was reduced from a hard-won 20 per cent
to 11-12 per cent. The differential had been destroyed and SUN was
determined to restore it (Slater-Smith, 66).
This became the major
battleground for the 1978 round of negotiations.
differential was something that the nurses had fought hard for and were not
about to relinquish without a fight. Until 1978, nurses had been fighting
a battle to be seen as professionals and to be respected as such. Wages
similar to their assistants would be seen as an affront to nurses and an attack
on their professional integrity. Negotiations proceeded and eventually most
of the issues were agreed upon, but it was wage differentials that derailed
the negotiations. Instead of taking job action, however, Shalansky recommended that
they enter into arbitration.
Emmett Hall, known for his work on the Commission on Medicare in 1964, was
chosen as chair of the arbitration board. SUN was holding out hope that
Hall would see the valididty of their position. On September 13, "despite SUN's
brief and supporting documentation, the award provided for increases that created
only a 10 to 11 per cent differential between RNs and CNAs" (Slater-Smith,
This was the
first time since its inception that SUN did not feel it had "won" a round of
negotiations. This deflated the union and led to a number of years of
what SUN historian Colleen Slater-Smith calls "growing pains."