On December 15, ETFO Teacher/Occasional Teacher members voted 90 percent in favour of accepting the Teacher/Occasional Teacher Central Agreement and on October 23, Education worker members voted 80 percent in favour of accepting the 2022-2026 Education Worker Central Agreement. Both were negotiated over one of ETFO’s longest bargaining periods in history. I want to start this column by saying thank you. Thank you for the work you do in your classrooms everyday, for your support over this long process and for having faith in your collective bargaining team. As a result of your support, we were able to remain focused on getting government cuts off the table and making improvements to members’ working conditions, which are inherently tied to students’ learning conditions.
This was an unusual round of bargaining. Unlike the previous round, the Ford government did not initially approach ETFO with the egregious cuts to public schools they presented in 2019. Instead, we saw a lot of stalling by this government and pressure to send all aspects of the contract to arbitration. Your bargaining team knew that unlike salary, classroom conditions and supports, and resources for students and educators could not be properly addressed at arbitration. We held firm on resolving these issues before we would consider any arbitration offer from the government. Key to our goals, was forcing the government to begin to address violence in our schools.
To overcome the government’s inaction at the bargaining table, members provided ETFO with a strong strike mandate of 95 percent in October. That strike mandate sent a clear message to the government that it needed to get serious about negotiating an agreement that would address ETFO members’ key priorities. Filing for conciliation in August, and the strike vote result in October, were two factors that applied positive pressure. These actions accelerated the bargaining process, allowing ETFO to finally achieve tentative central agreements for both Teachers/Occasional Teachers and Education Workers.
Both agreements include a mechanism for a Bill 124 financial remedy. ETFO members will see salaries and wage scales increased retroactively to compensate for the unconstitutional wage restrictions the government imposed during the three-year period between 2019 and 2022.
I am grateful to our members for their solidarity and support over this extremely long, slow bargaining round and to parents and communities across the province, who know that educators are not only fighting for fair wages and benefits but for high-quality universal public education, and the resources and supports our students need to thrive.
While this round of bargaining has concluded, and we were able to make some improvements to our members’ working conditions, our work is not over. Educators know that the Ford government continues to underfund and undermine the public services and social safety nets Ontarians rely on. ETFO will continue to hold this government to account, we will continue to lobby, to organize and to campaign to ensure that our public schools, our members and our students are supported and valued by this government. We will also stand in solidarity with others who are seeking equity, social and economic justice.
With that, I want to wish you a peaceful and productive new year. This past year has been challenging on many fronts. The wars between Israel and Hamas, Russia and Ukraine and in Sudan continue to have deep personal effects on our schools and communities. We have seen a dramatic increase in antisemitism and Islamophobia. We have also seen a surge of anti-2SLGBTQ+ organizing, with groups targeting public schools that raised Pride flags or had other displays. Educators will continue to work hard to ensure that schools are safe, welcoming and inclusive spaces for all our students and to stand in solidarity with our colleagues. Not only is this our commitment as activists, it is our responsibility as educators.
Wishing you all the best in the new year and looking forward to our continued work together.
– Karen Brown