1974 SUN Strike
very first round of job action took place the same year that the union was
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).
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.
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.