In order to take the pulse of Saskatchewan’s nurses and determine what they wanted in the next collective agreement, SUN held its Bargaining Conference in Saskatoon on November 14-15, 2001.
The successful conference provided SUN members with a forum to discuss the many topics nurses face. After much discussion and after looking at other feedback from the membership, the Negotiations Committee then prioritized the issues most important to the nurses of Saskatchewan. Compensation was set as the top priority to achieve competitive rate with neighbouring provinces.
Bargaining commenced in early January 2002 between SAHO and SUN. At first, negotiations went well as quite a few non-monetary issues were cleared off the negotiations table.
More progress was made at the bargaining table throughout the winter months. During the week of March 11-15, Negotiations Committee members, Board members and Employment Relations Officers criss-crossed the province to inform nurses of the progress they had made to get a contract that would retain nurses in Saskatchewan.
On March 19, SAHO dropped a bombshell. The employer tabled a 3-3-3 monetary offer over three years and 1.78 percent for all other monetary proposals, an offer SUN President Rosalee Longmoore called "an insult."
"Saskatchewan is experiencing its worst nursing shortage in its history. But you wouldn’t know it from SAHO’s wage offer. The only way to keep the nurses we have in Saskatchewan and encourage other nurses to move to our province is to offer fair compensation."
"While we have issued a call for a strike vote," Longmoore said, "we have an obligation to our members and to the public to exhaust all of our energies at the bargaining table in an attempt to reach a satisfactory agreement."
Noting nurses "prefer to reach an agreement through negotiations rather than to strike," Longmoore added, "we are asking our members to support our demands through a strike vote on April 23, in case we can’t get fair compensation for our members at the bargaining table."
The Strike Steering Committee and Locals throughout the province began to mobilize the members to support a strike vote to help the Negotiations Committee.
With the SUN Annual Meeting scheduled to be held in Prince Albert on April 10-12, the SUN Negotiations Committee met around the clock with SAHO and finally hammered out a tentative collective agreement just before midnight on April 9.
The following day, SUN members at the Annual Meeting gave the Negotiations Committee a standing ovation as they entered the convention centre.
The strike vote was cancelled and replaced by a ratification vote. Nurses in the provincial bargaining unit voted 91 percent in favour of the new contract. Extendicare nurses voted 98 percent (or 100 percent) in favour of their separate collective agreement.
Noting nurses didn’t have to take a strike vote or engage in any forms of job actions, Longmoore concluded the new agreement is, "the first step to provide the fair compensation and improved working conditions that will retain nurses in Saskatchewan and help end the nursing shortage."