This government may not care about the long-term consequences of their cuts to public education, but educators are very aware that what we are fighting for today will have an impact on generations of students to come. We take this responsibility very seriously.
Uncertainty and New Beginnings
On Friday, September 11, after just seven days of bargaining, the Ontario Public School Boards Association and government negotiators told the mediator facilitating our discussions they “were done” and wouldn’t negotiate further with ETFO. In effect, they walked away from the table. We said then that we wanted to continue to negotiate to reach a fair deal for our members. We said we would meet any time to negotiate that deal. You, our members, stood in solidarity behind us through it all. For this we thank you.
By the time you receive this issue of Voice we will know whether we were able to negotiate a fair collective agreement. You will either be working under a new collective agreement or be engaged in Phase 3 and Phase 4 Work-to-Rule. You will have heard from me and from your local president many times already this school year. You’ve received emails and Twitter messages, logged onto etfocb.ca, and attended local information meetings. Your work has changed as you support your union by following the work-to-rule protocols. Your local leaders, provincial Executive and ETFO staff have been working tirelessly to achieve the best possible collective agreement that protects and enhances your working conditions and your students’ learning conditions.
Collective bargaining isn’t the only thing happening this fall. There is a federal election underway. By the time you are reading this column, we will know the shape of our next federal government. For the first time this year ETFO actively encouraged members to get involved in a federal election. As I said in our election newsletter, “there is too much at stake to sit back and not do what we can as a union to have an impact on the outcome.”
We spent much of our August Annual Meeting discussing bargaining and politics. Both, after all, determine the quality of our lives – at home and at work. Hundreds of ETFO members, delegates to the meeting, stood and cheered when we pledged to bargain for the future and respect our past. This round of bargaining has been challenging in large part because we have said we would not give up the 240 minutes of self-directed preparation time we have won over many years. This preparation time allows us to be better teachers in the classroom, better advocates for our students. We were not prepared to accept increased supervision, another threat to hard-won gains from the past.
This was an election year in ETFO. We said goodbye to some long-time leaders and welcomed new ones to your leadership team. Vice-presidents Maureen Weinberger and James McCormack chose to retire this year. Both Maureen and James have been critically important to the work that I do, that your Executive does, that your union does. They represented ETFO on the Ontario Federation of Labour board of directors. They represented ETFO at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (where Maureen was a vice-president) and they represented ETFO at the Ontario Teachers’ Federation.
Our new vice-presidents are Nancy Lawler and Karen Brown. Both have served on the provincial Executive. Nancy is from Bluewater where she has been local president for many years. Karen is from ETT where she served on the executive. I am looking forward to working with them both and I know they will make a valuable contribution to your leadership team.
Diane Dewing has replaced Rian McLaughlin as the OTF table officer. Rian, in addition to serving as the ETFO OTF table officer, served as OTF president. She did an outstanding job and was a strong advocate for public education and for your pensions.
Your provincial Executive has also undergone some changes. You can read about them in the Annual Meeting section of this issue of Voice.
Your provincial Executive has always worked very hard to protect and win strong collective agreements for ETFO members. They have been supported by outstanding work from ETFO staff under the leadership of the general secretary and deputy general secretaries. The collective bargaining staff have been engaged in every aspect of the proposals we have presented. But I know that each and every staff member has made a contribution to this important part of ETFO’s mandate.
In the end it is your support and your strength that makes it possible for us to do our work – the work we do for you.
When faced with a regressive government that consistently demonstrates its backwards logic, we must double down on our commitments to one another, to our collective well-being and to equity and social justice.