The past year of negotiations has been difficult for ETFO and other public sector unions.
With the passing of Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, we see how effective organizing is when we are working together to achieve the gains that will benefit the majority of workers in Ontario. Ontario was long overdue for major reforms that extend basic employment standards and protections to all workers and that respond to the changing nature of the provincial economy, including the increasing prevalence of precarious work.
While this bill makes changes to basic employment standards to improve working conditions for many precarious workers, it does not go far enough to remove barriers for unionization or to support equal pay, and misses the opportunity to address many other significant issues. We must continue to push for reforms and begin the important work of spreading the word about Ontarian’s new rights and entitlements under this legislation. If people do not know what changes have been made, they cannot hold their employers accountable.
This work goes hand in hand with ensuring that we elect a progressive government in the next provincial election. The election of a right-wing government could mean that many of the hard-won gains in labour law reform, social policy and economic equality could be lost. Now more than ever we need to push to ensure that all Ontarians have decent work, equity, better public services and a strong social safety net.
ETFO’s plans for the provincial election are well underway, but with the new election finance laws, unions are constrained in new and significant ways. The new provincial election laws limit ETFO’s ability to sponsor public advertising before and during the election period. ETFO can no longer make financial contributions to assist political parties in funding their election campaigns, nor can we release members to work as campaign workers for candidates. For ETFO and other unions, these changes mean that our biggest impact will be the result of mobilizing our 80,000 members and working with our labour and community partners on shared goals.
Since the 2010 release of our Building Better Schools campaign, ETFO has had a significant impact on political platforms and policy documents. We will continue to push all political parties to address a funding formula that never met student needs and ensure that resources are in place to help remedy the serious issue of violence in schools. Our public relations campaign – through buildingbetterschools.ca, radio and other advertising – and our continued public forums around the province are all intended to ensure that education issues are front and centre. ETFO locals have already done incredible work engaging and organizing our members on issues that affect our schools and communities. The findings in our recent violence survey will only reinforce the arguments we have been making to the government about the need to address the funding formula. Moving forward it will be essential to continue to organize around these issues and ensure that we mobilize support for a progressive agenda.
This election will stand as a test of our strength and solidarity. Progressive organizations must work together to ensure that a government is elected that will move us forward. We must improve learning conditions across the province and ensure the recent gains made for all Ontarians through Bill 148 are just the beginning. We must elect a government that will lift all of Ontario up.
This election more than any will rely on our members’ activism. It’s an opportunity for everyone to get involved. This is healthy for both our democracy and the labour movement. Member-driven democracy strengthens our union and active citizenship strengthens our society.
– Sam Hammond
President Sam Hammond opened the ETFO 2014 Annual Meeting with a reflection on ETFO’s victories over the past year in the face of challenges that “were varied and at times daunting.”