On January 19, 1974, nurses voted unanimously to “form a labour organization to represent nurses in Saskatchewan.” By the end of its first year, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) was the official bargaining agent for nurses in seventy-six hospitals and five nursing homes. Membership totaled approximately 2,500. In 1998, when the Dorsey Commission ruled that SUN should represent all registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses, and graduated nurses employed by health districts and their affiliates in the province, SUN’s numbers swelled to nearly 8,500. In 1982, SUN negotiated the first professional accountability clause that provided a formal mechanism for nurses to address issues of workload and patient safety. This resulted in nurses sending hundreds of work situation reports that documented unsafe staffing levels throughout the province during the 1980s.
There were labour disputes in 1974, 1976, 1988, and 1991, but none were as important as the strike of April 1999. Only hours after nurses began walking the picket line, the government of Saskatchewan pushed through legislation ordering nurses back to work. Bill 23’s back-to-work legislation imposed a minor wage increase for nurses as well as fines for the union and any nurses who refused to return to work. In response, about 2,000 nurses held a rally where they voted to defy the legislation, calling it an unjust law. Days later, SUN refused to obey a court injunction obtained by the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO). The impasse finally ended on April 18, 1999, when the government, SAHO and SUN signed a memorandum of understanding and nurses went back to work.
SUN currently represents approximately 7,700 registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses in acute care, long-term care, home care, public health, and community health.