1974 SUN Strike

SUN's very first round of job action took place the same year that the union was founded -it was the first province-wide withdrawal of nursing services in Canada. Many nurses were unhappy with the idea that they should go on strike as this was not something that had been done before. They were concerned about their patients and the quality of care they would receive if nurses were no longer on the wards. Colleen Slater-Smith, in her history of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses begins the book with a compelling story:

Registered Nurse Jill Jones walked into the women's washroom at the Saskatchewan Department of Labour and threw up.

She had just realized that 2,500 nurses in more than 50 provincial hospitals would probably have to use their mandate to take strike action sometime within the next 10 days. It was unthinkable. Jones' knees shook. It was late April 1974 and hospital nurses were embroiled in a contract dispute with the Saskatchewan Hospital Association (SHA). The issue: wages - money!

How could nurses desert their patients over the issue of wages? A subject so indelicate in nursing conversations that it was discussed behind closed doors, in scrub rooms or linen closets - never in public (Slater-Smith, 1).

The issue behind the strike was, "to establish parity with Alberta nurses and to restore the differential between Saskatchewan Registered Nurse (RN) and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) salaries. The former differential of 25 per cent was reduced to 16 per cent in 1973 when CNAs were given a wage increase" (Slater-Smith, 34). Negotiations eventually collapsed over the wage differential issue. It was at this point that SUN requested a strike mandate from its members. Ninety-one percent of members voted to strike and the nurses were out for twenty-four hours.

SUN received a wage increase of 23 per cent over the first year and 9 per cent in the second year, with the addition of a cost of living adjustment clause. The differential between RN and CNA salaries was raised to 23 per cent in the first year and 21 per cent in the second. This made union leaders happy and showed that even though the union was still in its infancy, it could make changes in the system to benefit nurses. This round of bargaining gave SUN the boost of confidence needed to continue as the new bargaining agent for nurses in the province.