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Determined Bargaining Yields New Agreements and a Secure Path Forward

Sharon O'Halloran

With bargaining, lobbying, public campaigns, government submissions, legal challenges, dozens of concurrent programs and all of the other work that ETFO does in service to our members, this fall was an extremely busy time. As part of our public campaign this year, we gave Ontarians an opportunity to thank a special educator on World Teacher Day. ETFO was overwhelmed by the number of people that responded, telling stories about how an Ontario educator (Teacher, OT, DECE, PSP or ESP) made a positive difference in their lives and the lives of their children. ETFO shared these thank you messages on billboards across the province. I want to begin by recognizing the huge difference you make in your classrooms every day and to tell you that your work is valued and has a tremendous impact on the lives of students.

The positive impact you have on your students is especially important in light of the conflict we have seen in the world this past year. These situations have deeply affected our students, their families and our colleagues. We have seen a significant increase in antisemitism and Islamophobia as a result. Last year we also saw a rise in hate crimes, threats and protests against transgender rights and rainbow activism in public schools. Thank you for continuing to work for equity, for standing up against oppression in all its forms, and for making sure all your students feel welcome, accepted, supported and seen.

In November, the ETFO bargaining committee was happy to report that ETFO had reached a tentative central agreement for Teacher/Occasional Teacher members. It was ratified with 90 percent support on December 15. While no agreement will solve all issues in our schools, this tentative deal represented a meaningful step forward in addressing the concerns that members across the province felt were key. This agreement preserved ETFO members’ sick leave entitlements and professional judgement language, provided meaningful increases in funding to sustain your benefits plan into the future, included hundreds of additional permanent teaching positions to provide screening and intensive reading supports for struggling readers in Grades 1, 2 and Year 2 of Kindergarten, enhanced the Support for Students Fund to include a minimum of 30 percent of the positions focused on supports for student behaviour and self-regulation. It is very unlikely that we could have achieved these gains through binding arbitration.

However, in order to attain meaningful salary increases – including increases to the daily teacher occasional rates – our best path forward in this bargaining round was determined to be binding arbitration. As a result, this agreement includes a commitment that salary issues will be addressed by a third-party arbitration board that will weigh factors such as inflation and rising costs, as well as the recruitment and retention crisis in education, in its decision.

Education workers ratified their central collective agreement on October 23 with 80 percent support. This education worker central agreement provides supports for students with special needs, has measures to address violence in schools and ensures job security for ESP and PSP members. The agreement provides appropriate funding to maintain your benefits and sick leave entitlements and offers a compensation increase that is fair. It allows locals that need to negotiate long-term disability and paid breaks to do so and preserves local bargaining.

Both of these agreements provide a path to a remedy for Bill 124. All ETFO members will see salaries and wage scales increased retroactively.

I want to thank you for your support and solidarity through one of ETFO’s longest rounds of bargaining in history and for your incredible work in the classroom through it all. I look forward to moving forward together, working to make sure that every Ontario student gets the public education they deserve and that educators are valued and respected by this government.

Wishing you a happy new year.

– Sharon O'Halloran