UNA 25 Years of History (1977)



Donahue Moved to Increase PSNC Power

Donahue immediately set about creating long-range planning goals for the collective bargaining program, including a 150% increase in revenues.  This position was overwhelmingly endorsed by 84 of the 86 Staff Nurse Associations at their first general meeting on February 23, 1977.  Changes in the proposed funding formula would require yet another bylaw change—a fact which indicated the degree of control over bargaining activities still exercised by the AARN Provincial Council.

The bone of contention was the method by which AARN revenues would be collected and distributed.  The registration fee of $75 per year for each AARN member had been distributed by means of a formula:  management nurses paid $75 dollars to the professional part of the association; bargaining unit nurses paid $25 to the PSNC and $50 to the professional division.  Now there was the additional revenue of union dues.  If dues were paid to the AARN on a monthly basis, what effect would this have on the professional fee payable by bargaining unit nurses to the professional division? The recommendations that PSNC put forth for bylaw changes included a proposal that would give PSNC  1/2% per capita of gross basic income for each staff nurse, and all the union dues submitted by employers.  In addition, all staff nurses would pay only 3/5 of the annual AARN membership fee.

The procedure for amending the bylaws of the AARN was lengthy and time-consuming.  The Provincial Council chose to maintain its historical prerogative of sole power to set the annual membership fee, and therefore decided not to publish the part of the PSNC proposal about 3/5 of membership fee.  The PSNC charged Provincial Council with interfering with union business, and instituted legal proceedings to challenge the consistency of AARN bylaws with the Registered Nurses’ Act.  The only way that the 50% of AARN members belonging to the PSNC could effect the changes it desired was to use the decision-making mechanisms of a general meeting.  The Provincial Council refused to call a general meeting.  The atmosphere of mistrust, confusion and anxiety soon lead Donahue and the PSNC to devise a strategy for organizational separation from the AARN, without jeopardizing the Collective Agreements, most of which had expired and were being renegotiated.

The PSNC appointed Donahue as its Chief Executive Officer and authorized him to draw up a constitution for an independent union called the Alberta Nurses’ Association, later to become United Nurses of Alberta.  The turmoil and tension between the two groups was illustrated by the fact that the Chairperson of the PSNC, Gurtey Chinell, worked at the Red Deer Hospital where her Director of Nursing was Audrey Thompson, President of the AARN.

On April 22, 1977, the AARN passed a motion that allowed the collective bargaining program of the AARN to become an independent organization with sufficient time being given for an orderly development of a new body—this to protect the Collective Agreements.

UNA Founded – Chinell President

On May 6, 1977, the AARN called a general meeting to be held immediately after the Annual Meeting.  1300 nurses attended this meeting in Calgary and represented the widespread concerns and misunderstandings of nurses regarding the recent events and the proposed splitting up of the two divisions of the AARN.  The meeting was filled with tension and confrontation, and finally Chinell announced the decision of the PSNC to form an independent organization, and requested the support of the AARN so as to protect existing Collective Agreements. Adjournment was abruptly moved and seconded, and the United Nurses of Alberta was born.

On June 14, 1977, the PSNC moved into new premises as the United Nurses of Alberta, and the majority of Staff Nurse Associations made applications for successor rights as chartered Locals of UNA.  Finances were so meagre that Donahue offered to re-mortgage his home in order to open the first UNA Provincial Office on 109 Street and 106 Avenue in Edmonton.  Province-wide negotiations had reached conciliation stage, having been held in abeyance since January of 1977.

By June, 1977, it became apparent that conciliation was not resulting in effective gains for UNA members.

Hospital Strike

On July 4, 1977, UNA began a legal strike at seven (7) hospitals in Alberta affecting 2,500 nurses.  The seven hospitals were the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, the Edmonton General Hospital, the Red Deer Hospital, the Calgary General Hospital, the Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary, St. Michael’s Hospital in Lethbridge, and the Grande Prairie Hospital.

Back-To-Work Order

On July 8, 1977, by Order-in-Council of the provincial government, a public emergency was declared and the nurses were ordered back to work, with the provision of an Emergency Tribunal to award a settlement binding on both parties.  Mr. Justice Bowen was the appointed arbitrator.

On July 8, 1977, in the face of huge fines, and with only two months’ union dues in the UNA account, nurses returned to work.  Nurses were the first group of Alberta employees threatened with these legislated fines.

Bowen Award

Mr. Justice Bowen awarded a 9% wage increase over one year, even though the federal Wage and Price Controls legislation mandated a 6% ceiling for federal workers.  This 6% ceiling had been adopted by the provincial government through its own legislation, and the employers were now caught between two conflicting laws—the Bowen decision of a 9% increase was legally binding, and the 6% ceiling was also legally binding.  The employers paid a 6% increase, and some individual UNA members then filed a Statement of Claim with their employers for the additional 3%.  In order to allow the employers to pay this mandated additional 3%, the provincial government had to pass an Order-in-Council exempting nurses from the 6% wage ceiling.  A special piece of legislation, Bill 101, was then passed allowing the health unit employers to offer and pay a 9% wage increase to UNA’s health unit nurses.

Mr. Justice Bowen rejected UNA’s demand for the Rand Formula—a system whereby the employers deduct union dues and remit them to the Union. He also rejected the demand for a Professional Responsibility Committee.

A UNA Calgary office was opened in the basement of Mike Mearns’ home.

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