A moment in history: March 8, 1982

A moment in history: March 8, 1982

· The Pulse

On this day in 1982, picket lines stood across Edmonton as nurses and transit workers took part in two separate strikes.

Edmonton's buses and LRT system shut down on Feb. 15 after transit workers went on strike, demanding the same pay offered in other cities. ETS drivers were making $9.85 an hour at the time — almost $3/hour less than their Calgary equivalents.

The strike caused then-mayor Cec Purves to cut his vacation short to deal with the issue, although news reports seem to suggest that commuters adapted to the loss of transit service, at least in the strike's early days.

The nursing strike, however, was a different story. It came after a series of other nursing strikes in 1977 and 1980. In February 1982, the United Nurses of Alberta were in negotiations on a settlement for outstanding issues in their contract. The union had set a vote on Feb. 12 to decide on a settlement proposal, but Alberta's labour minister demanded a government-supervised ballot the day before. UNA urged its members to boycott the earlier vote. Things broke down, and the union declared a strike on Feb. 16, one day after the transit workers' strike started.

Not all nurses went on strike. Due to a ruling from the province's labour board, some locals were not allowed to vote on a strike. As a result, nurses walked out of 69 hospitals across the province — about two-thirds of the 8,300 nurses represented by UNA at the time. The University of Alberta Hospital ended up taking many of the patients who would have been treated by other Edmonton facilities at that time.

Contract negotiations between the nurses and the province broke down multiple times throughout February and March. News accounts reveal confrontations on picket lines, including one man throwing snowballs at striking nurses who had gathered outside the labour minister's home, the Edmonton Journal reported.

In response to the strike, the Alberta government introduced a bill that forced the nurses back to work and made it illegal for nursing staff to strike, imposing harsh penalties. That didn't stop nurses from striking again anyway in 1988. The ban would be deemed unconstitutional in 2015.

As for the transit strike, it dragged on longer, with the union and the city disagreeing over changes to driver scheduling and part-time positions. Eventually, drivers returned to work with a raise that brought them up to par with their Calgary counterparts.

Compared to the '80s, public service strikes are rarer now. But labour tensions are brewing, with drivers for the city's Dedicated Accessible Transit Service (DATS) likely to vote on a strike next week.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.