Norman George Rosenau, born in Regina on March 27, 1941, and raised in southwest Saskatchewan, became a well-known advocate of public services, public employees, and the rights of injured and disabled workers. Rosenau began his career as a psychiatric nurse at the old Moose Jaw Training School, now known as Valley View Centre, a facility for the mentally disabled. In 1974 he became a vocational rehabilitation counsellor for the Workers’ Compensation Board, where he became active on the union bargaining committee, a unit of the Saskatchewan Government Employees’ Union (SGEU). He was elected to SGEU’s provincial executive and as a vice-president from Regina in 1986. He became the president of SGEU in 1988, replacing Barb Byers who had been elected president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour.
Rosenau took on the leadership of SGEU at a time when its members were under attack by the policies of the provincial government, Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservatives. Privatization and cutbacks to public services, wage restraints and back-to-work legislation became the mantra of Devine’s public policy. Rosenau became an eloquent and vigourous leader against these policies, and a prominent figure in the media and the labour movement. SGEU’s battle with the provincial government came to a head when, in the dying days of his second term, Grant Devine announced “Fair Share Saskatchewan,” a plan to dismantle government departments based in Regina and Saskatoon and transfer them to smaller communities across the province. Rosenau led SGEU in challenging Fair Share in the courts, and mobilized its members as well as public opinion. In 1991, Grant Devine was replaced in the provincial election by Roy Romanow’s NDP.
The large debt and deficit the NDP inherited from the Conservatives became the excuse for further government cutbacks and large-scale public sector layoffs in the early 1990s. Rosenau challenged these policies as forcefully as he did cutbacks by the previous government. After six years as president, he stepped down and returned to the Workers’ Compensation Board. In 1998, he was offered the position of manager of the Office of the Worker’s Advocate, a Department of Labour agency advocating and representing workers in disputes with the Workers’ Compensation Board. He retired from the agency in 2002, but has continued assisting injured and disabled workers, and has been active in the Saskatchewan Centennial Workers Celebration Committee.