In 1971, represented by the Association of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland (ARNN), registered nurses signed their first collective agreement. The two-year agreement attempted to improve compensation for registered nurses, however, three years later, registered nurses still worked 40-hour weeks, schedules were posted only six days in advance and registered nurses were only guaranteed every fourth weekend off. There was no family leave, and registered nurses returned to work six weeks after having a baby.
In 1973, the Public Service Collective Bargaining Act was introduced and it became illegal for an “employee organization” to be influenced or dominated by management. As the ARNN Council consisted of both management registered nurses and staff registered nurses, it conflicted with the act and prompted registered nurses to seek a stronger, unified voice to address collective bargaining concerns.
In 1974, an active organizational drive began to solicit membership for the Newfoundland Nurses’ Union and the response was overwhelming. After months of study, discussion, and advice-seeking, registered nurses gave birth to a new era, forming the Newfoundland Nurses’ Union in the fall of 1974. The name was later changed to the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses’ Union (NLNU). NLNU remained the official name of the organization until 2014 when the union added the word “registered” to its name to more accurately reflect its membership. The union is now the Registered Nurses’ Union Newfoundland & Labrador (RNUNL).
In 2009, RNUNL was just two hours away from job action when a historic agreement was reached with the provincial government, proving the power that a strike mandate and a strike deadline can have for achieving membership priorities and moving government away from template bargaining.
RNUNL has grown significantly both in strength and numbers throughout its 40-year history. Today, RNUNL is proud to represent over 5,700 registered nurses in this province and has evolved into a strong grassroots, member-driven union.
Throughout its history, RNUNL has achieved significant gains for its members through collective bargaining. Not only have wages increased dramatically, but registered nurses also now benefit from improved pension plans, health and disability benefits, family leave, maternity leave and a 37.5 hour work week.
Many collective agreements have been negotiated over the years with only three strikes: a rotating strike in 1977 and two provincial strikes in 1979 and 1999. In 2009, RNUNL was just two hours away from job action when a historic agreement was reached with the provincial government, proving the power that a strike mandate and a strike deadline can have for achieving membership priorities and moving government away from template bargaining.
Over the years, RNUNL has transformed from an organization focused mainly on negotiating contracts, into a union that champions to protect the health care system, the role of the registered nurse, and the rights of patients, clients and residents. Through advocacy and research, RNUNL has worked to improve the health care system and enhance the livelihood, safety and well-being of registered nurses.
Much more than a voice for registered nurses in the workplace, RNUNL now represents registered nurses to the media and public by telling the stories of registered nurses’ in ways that garner interest, attention and action. RNUNL has also strategically aligned itself with the Canadian Federation of Nurses’ Unions and the Canadian Labour Congress and works closely with provincial nurses unions and organizations.
Each action taken by RNUNL has been a step forward to a better life for registered nurses and for patients, clients and residents. Its history is one that is strong and rich, influenced by many challenges and triumphs. RNUNL stands stronger today than it ever has, and tomorrow, will no doubt, bring continued growth and achievements benefiting registered nurses and the health care system.