Feature

Part IV of It's Elementary: A Brief History of Ontario's Public Elementary Teachers and Their Federations

Barbara Richter

PART 4: Early 1980 to 1998

The 1980s – Decade of Equity

Although the 1960s and 1970s were the years of consciousness-raising, the rise of teacher militancy, and the beginnings of many social justice movements, it was during the 1980s that progress on equity issues was made  in  policy, legislation, union structure, and collective agreements.

In 1982 Canada got a constitution. Section 15, the main equality rights section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, came into effect on April 17, 1985. The Charter’s enshrinement of  women’s rights was the result of intensive work by women’s groups, including FWTAO, which  helped organize the 1981 Women’s Constitutional Conference to push for women’s equality. FWTAO later gave startup support to the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), to ensure that women’s rights were upheld.

Trade  unions  responded  to  the  demand  for  equality  in part by creating designated positions on their executives. The first labour organization in Canada to do so was the Ontario Federation of Labour, which in 1983 designated  seats specifically for women on its executive. Other unions soon followed, and designated positions expanded to  include visible minorities; Aboriginal Canadians; people living with disabilities; gay, lesbian, and transgendered persons; and youth.

 

Greater equality in schools

Amendments to  the  Education Act made education more accessible to students with special needs, giving them more opportunities and eventually removing labels like “trainable retarded” from the education vocabulary. Teacher federations supported the new opportunities but also demanded funding to back up the move toward integration of special needs students. They  also  made  a  renewed  thrust  in  negotiating  working  conditions clauses to ensure that class sizes were appropriate and that teachers had the resources and the time to do their work effectively. At the beginning of the decade, only a handful of elementary agreements contained preparation- time  language. By the end of the decade, and following the 1987 strike for preparation time in Metro Toronto,  almost every teacher collective agreement had  such provisions. ETFO’s  Campaign 200 continued  that initiative.

The federations fought for just-cause clauses prohibiting boards from firing teachers without just cause, and for protections against discrimination and sexual harassment. Paid pregnancy  leave, a revolutionary concept at the time, became a major focus in bargaining.

 

Equal opportunity for women teachers

Although  women  elementary  teachers  succeeded  in  eliminating  many discriminatory  practices  in  the  workplace,  they  soon  faced  another challenge – barriers to promotion.

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