The women’s issue of Voice is one that is close to my heart. It reminds us every year about the history of the formation of ETFO – an amalgamation of the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO) and the Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation (OPSTF) in 1998 – and the commitment then and into the future to a dedicated 6 percent of funding to women’s programs and the importance of women’s leadership in the union. This issue of Voice is an opportunity to focus on women’s accomplishments, women’s programs and to redouble our commitment to looking at social and political issues through an intersectional lens.
A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic and hopefully in the transition back to whatever our new normal will be, we know that the pandemic has disproportionately affected women and other marginalized groups. It has hit frontline workers the hardest, whether it was those who work in grocery stores who didn’t receive adequate pay or PPE or those who work in public schools who had to force the government to increase funding and protections for educators and students and transition back and forth between in-person and online learning. We saw that Black, racialized and Indigenous communities bore the worst of COVID-19 and we saw women across the province doing double and triple duty at home and at work, while being overrepresented in the sectors subjected to the most risk. Regardless of how much progress we have made advancing the positions of women and other marginalized groups, there is always more work to be done. Nothing makes this clearer than a crisis.
ETFO lobbied and campaigned all year to push the government to make our public schools safer for students and educators and we managed to move the government on several important issues – including province-wide masking for children from Grades 1-8 and increased funding for safety measures in public schools. Millions of Ontarians heard our radio ads and saw our ads on social and digital media. However, the government’s lack of commitment to prioritising educators and other frontline workers for vaccine access, their refusal to reduce class size and improve ventilation – even though that was the advice of their own science table – meant that students and educators were still under considerable risk for COVID-19 transmission. The Ford government admitted in a public letter to stakeholders released on May 27 that school transmission contributed to the growth of COVID-19 cases in April – a fact that the government had denied up until that point.
Getting Ford’s Conservatives out of office in the June 2022 provincial election is going to be extremely important. ETFO is organizing now, and we will continue to mobilize our members and our communities to make sure that the next government we elect in Ontario values public education and public services and puts appropriate supports and protections in place, particularly for those that have been most impacted by the pandemic. If you haven’t already done so, please sign up at BuildingBetterSchools.ca/mobilize and let us know how you would like to participate in organizing in your community. An organizer will get in touch to tell you about how you can help.
The past two years, from the conclusion of central bargaining straight into the COVID-19 pandemic, have been incredibly difficult. ETFO members, local leaders, the ETFO Executive and staff have worked tirelessly to rise to the incredibly difficult challenges we were presented with. I am honoured to be part of such an incredible organization comprised of an amazing team of committed individuals.
This summer marks the end of President Hammond’s tenure with ETFO. In September, Sam will be leaving ETFO to join the Canadian Teachers’ Federation as their president. Sam has led ETFO through so many challenges over his 12 years as President and we are so grateful for his leadership and commitment to ETFO members and to public education, and so glad to have him at the helm of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation advocating for the priorities of educators and public schools across the country. Sam has been an unwavering supporter of equity and social justice, of ETFO’s commitment to every Ontario student getting an excellent public education regardless of their geographic location or personal circumstances, and of classroom educators in every part of this province. Sam has been an exemplary leader and we wish him all the best at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.
– Sharon O’Halloran