SUN Growing Pains

While SUN's first few years were almost unprecedented in terms of success, the honeymoon came to an end in 1978 when the Hall arbitration awarded registered nurses (RNs) an insufficient wage differential from certified nursing assistants (CNAs).

Al Shalansky, a key figure in SUN's inception and then-CEO, was asked to resign at the 1982 annual meeting due to a resolution passed that SUN would "endeavour to employ" nurses in senior positions wherever possible. This again created dissatisfaction amongst some union members. Shalansky was not a nurse, but had helped to create SUN and had a strong backing in the membership.

Probably overshadowed by these events were other important steps taken in regard to education of union members. One key decision made at a SUN annual meeting was in 1978 when member education was recognized as a "cornerstone of union activities," essential not only for ensuring "a steady supply of potential leaders for both local and provincial levels," but also to enable a larger number of union members to be active and knowledgeable It was officially acknowledged that more nurses needed to be educated in the fields of communications, labour relations, bargaining and negotiations. (SUN 25 year pamphlet). In 1980, SUN hired Larry LeMoal, who had extensive labour relations experience, and assigned him to develop SUN's formal education program.

SUN held seminars in various locations across the province and held labour schools where members could learn these skills. Virginia Kutzan, education committee chairperson, remembers the success of the first labour school:

That first school was so successful that the collective bargaining class ended up having a strike...They had been role playing and had got carried away. It was amazing! The union negotiating committee picketed our wind-up banquet the night before the school closed. The management committee and some members from other classes crossed the picket line, but many didn't. The instructors, president and CEO wouldn't cross, but waited for the problem to be resolved. The cook waited to serve the food and it got cold and some people were angry because the banquet was spoiled, but the union team just kept on picketing (Slater-Smith, 80).

Another positive step during that time was that of the creation of the National Federation of Nurses' Unions (NFNU). As early as 1975 the formation of such a body had been discussed, and SUN was one of the first unions to promote the idea (Slater-Smith, 89). In 1979, SUN was one of eight provincial unions that met in Montreal to set objectives for the federation and begin the process of drafting a constitution. The constitution was ratified in 1981 and the national federation was born.

The years of 1978-1982 were a period of both growth and division for SUN. The union experienced its first taste of discontent amongst the membership. At the same time, it experienced growth in numbers and in prestige as it made a splash on the national scene while founding the NFNU. SUN pulled through this period and emerged a stronger organization.