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Part III of It's Elementary: A Brief History of Ontario's Public Elementary School Teachers and their Federations

Barbara Richter

PART 3: Early 1945 to 1980

The postwar landscape

The teacher federations survived a recession, a depression, and two world wars. They emerged from the war  years with their existence and their memberships guaranteed by the 1944 Teaching Profession Act. The new Act boosted federation membership: overnight FWTAO membership jumped to 12,500 from 5,3001  and that of  OPSMTF to 3,400 from about 1,6002 members. OTF and the five affiliates became effective lobby groups with government and formidable advocates for teachers with school boards and the public.

With wartime restrictions lifted, the federations could resume action on their key issues – raising the status of  the profession and improving the economic conditions of teachers. Women teachers were also seeking equal pay with their male colleagues.

When school opened in September 1947 Ontario’s elementary schools were short over 1,000 teachers.  Classrooms were bursting: students had to share desks and learning materials. Boards scrambled to find teachers. Married women, sent home after the war, were called back. The postwar baby boom brought both challenges and opportunities. In 1945-46 there were 436,709 public elementary school students in Ontario. Ten years later there were 643,951, an increase of almost 50 per cent.3

The push for professionalism

The federations believed the teacher shortage provided an opportunity to improve salaries to encourage  people to enter or return to teaching. Both FWTAO and OPSMTF worked to enhance teacher professionalism. They encouraged members to improve their qualifications and to adhere to the code of professional ethics  outlined in the Teaching Profession Act. They endorsed higher standards for teacher education and a university degree for all teachers.

In a crushing blow to the federations’ efforts, the government responded by lowering standards for entrance to the profession and issuing letters of permission to people with no or incomplete teaching  qualifications.4  In 1952 the government again lowered standards, to give a temporary certificate to a grade 12 graduate who completed a six-week summer course.

Faced  with  an  increasing  number  of  members  with  little or no training, and in an effort to  maintain standards, both federations developed their first in-service programs. FWTAO organized conferences and workshops, developed recommended reading  lists,  and  encouraged  its  local   associations  to  offer professional development opportunities.5 OPSMTF, recognizing its members were mostly Intermediate-grade teachers, vice-principals, and principals, offered summer courses in school supervision, administration,and effective practices for Intermediate classrooms.6  From these humble beginnings both federations developed extensive professional development departments.

The fight for equal pay

One  of  the  reasons  women  teachers  had  organized  was  to  improve their  economic  conditions.  Economic  downturns,  global  conflict,  and general social mores delayed their fight, but in 1945 the FWTAO annual meeting endorsed the concepts of equal pay and equal opportunity for advancement for both men and women teachers. They took the issue to the OTF, believing its endorsement and that of the affiliates would give more clout to their efforts.

A revolutionary concept for its day, this move met with considerable opposition. The work of  men, no matter what the field of  endeavour, was  considered  more  important  and  was  better  paid.  In  elementary schools, teaching the Intermediate grades, where men predominated, was considered more important than teaching the early years, where women were the majority. Fewer men than women entered teaching and boards offered higher salaries to attract them. Society viewed men as breadwinners who deserved higher salaries whether or not they actually had families.

The equal pay resolution met with “spirited discussion” when it came to the OTF in February 1946. 7  It was sent to the affiliates for study, was referred to the educational finance and resolutions committees, and finally passed at the December 1946 meeting with the following wording:

That the OTF favour the policy of equal opportunity and equal pay for equal qualifications andresponsibilities as between men and women in the schools of Ontario.8

A number of women’s groups, including the FWTAO, joined together to lobby the government to pass equal pay legislation. In 1951, five years after teachers had endorsed the concept, the Ontario government passed the Fair Remuneration for Female Employees Act, legislating equal pay.

But  in  spite  of  OTF  policy  and  provincial  legislation, many  school boards, and even some local men’s groups, were cool to the idea of equal pay and to  bargaining jointly with the women teachers.9  While salary schedules gradually eliminated disparities in pay, boards circumvented the principles of equal pay by offering sports and supervision allowances or even marriage bonuses to their male teachers. It took another 20 years to phase out these inequities.

The push for better salaries

The federations’ codes of ethics said teachers shouldn’t accept salaries below an established minimum, usually coinciding with the level of provincial grant. In 1947 it was “unprofessional” to accept a starting salary below $1,500. In 1954 accepting less than $2,400 was considered “unethical.”10 The federations offered to help teachers achieve these salaries, but with over 6,000 school boards, some with only a single one-room school, it was a difficult task.

To address disparities in salaries – between men and women, urban and rural, and north and south – the federations gradually developed a new approach to bargaining. They moved away from the concept of pay determined by gender or grade level, to salary schedules based on qualifications, years of experience, and additional responsibility. This gradually developed into a grid with minimum and maximum pay and annual increments in each of seven categories. Additional allowances recognized the increased responsibilities of principals, vice-principals, consultants, and other positions.

Salary schedules served a  number  of  purposes. They eliminated individual bargaining, underbidding, and divisions based on gender or grade taught. A series of increments recognized teacher experience and also provided an incentive to stay with a board. The federations assumed that pay linked to qualifications would encourage members to take courses and would attract a high calibre of teacher, thus improving the profession’s image.

These were the very early years of collective bargaining. Salaries, benefits, accumulation of sick leave, and  leave plans were the high-priority items. Although the federations had the legal right to represent members, teachers were excluded from the provisions of the Labour Relations Act so boards were not required to bargain with teacher federations. Many teachers resisted the salary schedule because they thought they would fare better on their own.

Nevertheless, FWTAO and OPSMTF gradually developed a system of joint bargaining and procedures to deal with difficult bargaining situations. They created the “grey letter,” similar to the current “pink listing,” to put pressure on boards to settle. Without legal bargaining rights or the right to strike, the only legal way teachers could withdraw services and sanction a board was to stage mass resignations in December or August. This was a risky tactic, one the federations did not use lightly.

From 1945  to  1955  teacher salaries improved   significantly.  The   average wage  increased  by  almost  90  percent for men and 130 percent for women. Women  made  significant  progress on equal pay: in 1945, their  salaries were about 67 percent of men’s; by 1954, the percentage had risen to 82.4.11

During  the  next  several  years  both federations developed bargaining departments whose staff travelled the province training  local  teachers  on  salary  committees or economic policy committees (forerunners of today’s bargaining committees) how to negotiate.

In the postwar period the provincial government consolidated school boards, ending in 1969 with the creation of  county, city, and regional boards.  As  a  result,  federation  members  worked  for  79,  not  6,000, employers. Action on true collective bargaining could begin.


Married women bring new priorities

Most boards forced women to resign when they married. During the war years many married women had returned to work as temporary employees. They were expected to leave at war’s end and go back to homemaking. In 1945-46 some 1,700 teachers didn’t return to the classroom; 1,000 of them were married women – some of them newly married during the year.12

However, the baby boom and the resulting increase in enrollments, as well as the general postwar teacher shortage created opportunities for women teachers not available to women in other occupations. Believing it  to be a short-term measure, school boards reluctantly hired married women as “special staff ” at lower pay on temporary contracts that they renewed annually and could terminate on short notice, especially if they found teachers they considered more desirable. And often they considered even 17-year old men with only a six-week summer course more desirable than more qualified married women.13

When women teachers on permanent staff married, their contracts also became temporary so that, the boards claimed, they could leave when family responsibility demanded, or if they became pregnant at inconvenient times. But the boards’ motives were called into question when one board changed the contract status of a woman who had taught for 30 years and was married just two years before she became eligible for a pension.14

Married women also faced criticism from colleagues and communities who questioned how they could be successful teachers if their loyalties were divided between home and school. Many colleagues thought married women were working for “pin money” and would hold back the demand for higher salaries.15 Many married women teachers were restrained in their militancy by the fact that children in school, families in the community, and their husbands’ jobs meant they couldn’t threaten to move to a distant school or board for a higher salary. Because of either prejudice or jealousy, many people resented two-income  families. In smaller communities, a woman thought to be too assertive about getting a higher salary could put her husband’s employment in jeopardy.16

But married women were in the work force to stay17 and their numbers grew so that  they comprised some two thirds of  the  FWTAO membership  by  1968.18   Their presence created new bargaining priorities: not only equal employment status but also maternity and parental leaves. In 1954, pressed by FWTAO, OTF passed policies about  maternity leave and the employment of married women.19

These policies were far ahead of  their time. In  1970  the  Womens Equa Opportunity Act guaranteed 17 weeks of maternity leave for any woman employed for at least one year and 11 weeks. It  also barred  discrimination based on sex or marital status in hiring, firing, training, and promotion. By this time, the federations had already negotiated maternity leave into most of their agreements.

School  boards  refused  to  accept  that  the legislation applied to women teachers and lobbied the provincial government to exclude them from the maternity leave provisions. Despite the legislative guarantees, federation vigilance was needed for years to ensure teachers knew their legal rights and took full advantage of them.

Over the years the federations continued to negotiate such improvements to parental leaves as accumulation of seniority and increment, board-paid benefit plans, paid leave, and paternity leave. Provincial legislation has been amended periodically to incorporate negotiated improvements.

The rise of teacher militancy

The social movements of the 1960s and 1970s brought increased awareness of individual and collective rights and responsibilities. Many people took a critical look at themselves and their role in shaping their world. The contraceptive  pill  revolutionized  family  planning  and  women’s  ability to combine family with career.  Feminism’s second wave was building as women realized equality meant more than having the right to vote. The 1971 Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Womenoutlined the need for action on women’s rights  in Canada. The American civil rights movement shone a spotlight on the devastating effects of  prejudice.  The  antiwar  movement  prompted  citizens to  look at  all  authority with  a  new and  critical eye. The  publication  of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Springmarked the awakening of  the environmental movement.

At the  same time, society cast a  critical eye on  the  education system. Living and Learning, a 1968 report of a provincial government royal commission into education, told educators that focusing on the 3Rs was not enough: they had to teach the whole child using a variety of new methods, including  individualized instruction. The report’s recommendations were implemented swiftly, without consultation, and with limited resources for teachers.

The provincial government centralized control of  education. In 1969 it consolidated school boards. One-room schools were closed and staff and students moved into new larger schools. Board consolidation improved the general situation for teachers, but large modern schools also created irritants such as more paperwork and less autonomy. Consolidation brought with it new structures for FWTAO and OPSMTF, with local associations and districts eventually conforming to  the new school board boundaries. Now less isolated, teachers had colleagues close at hand with whom to share ideas and concerns. They could call on local presidents and negotiating committees and could organize to take action on issues.

Consolidation was costly and by 1970 the provincial government had imposed expenditure ceilings, giving  school boards that had overspent time to get their finances under control. Boards responded by increasing class sizes; firing teachers and hiring teaching assistants; cancelling special education and ESL programs; replacing teacher librarians with technicians, and junior kindergarten teachers with early childhood education graduates; and giving one principal two or more schools to administer.

At the same time schools and teachers were expected to do more: new topics such as sex education, values education, and environmental concerns were added to the curriculum without sufficient training or supports for teachers.

These factors converged to create a new teacher militancy soon reflected in bargaining. The years of quiet self-sacrifice were over. Teachers demanded a decent wage and more control over their working conditions. They wanted smaller classes, relief from ever-increasing paperwork and supervision, and a say in what they taught and how. They wanted quality education for their students and quality of life for themselves.

December 18, 1973

Teachers’ demands for better working conditions were resisted strongly by  school  boards,  which  believed  these  issues  were  the  sole  right  of management.  The  new  teacher  bargaining  stance  led  to  an  increased number of impasses, more visible now that boards were larger. A concerned provincial  government  appointed   the   Committee   of   Inquiry   into Negotiation Procedures Concerning Elementary and Secondary Schools of Ontario, known as the Reville Committee for the retired judge who chaired it. Teachers dubbed its 1972 report “The Reviled Report.”20

The  committee’s  recommendations  gave  power  decisively  to  school boards. It turned the tide for teachers and even the meekest now demanded free collective bargaining, the right to negotiate any term or condition of employment, and the right to strike.

Action  came  sooner  than  most  expected.  In  the  fall  of  1973,  17 local  bargaining  units  from  OECTA and  OSSTF  reached  an  impasse in  negotiations  and  teachers  submitted  letters  of  resignation  effective December 31, potentially leaving some 180,000 students without teachers when schools reopened in January. Reacting swiftly, the government tabled two pieces of legislation by December 10. Bill 274 changed the effective date of the resignations to August 31, and Bill 275, bargaining legislation, mandated compulsory arbitration while excluding the right to strike.

The  federations  quickly  organized  protests.  FWTAO  and  OPSMTF supported the other federations, contacting more than 3,000 elementary schools by phone and telegram. On December 18, 1973, 80,000 of  the province’s 105,000 teachers left their classrooms. Some 30,000 attended a rally at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto then marched to Queen’s Park. One favourite story about the protest is that the minister of education and the premier knew they were defeated when, from their office windows, they saw busloads of nuns, OECTA members, joining the protesters. They withdrew the legislation within days.

During the consultation, boards argued that only salary and benefits should  be negotiable, leaving  everything  else  for  management  to decide. They  also  opposed  the right to  strike. The federations lobbied for full or open scope bargaining: anything put on the table would be negotiable. Teachers won this right. They also won the right to  strike, which came with  the proviso that principals and vice-principals, still federation members then, would have to remain on duty in the schools during any sanction.

For the first time in their long history, teachers had the statutory right to bargain and boards had  to   negotiate   with  them  in  good  faith. Old  agreements, some  only  five  or  six  pages, eventually became lengthy documents outlining


Bill 100 – teachers get bargaining legislation

It took another two years of consultation before the government passed the School Boards andTeachers Negotiations Act, in 1975. Bill 100, the first bargaining legislation for teachers, was considered very progressive for its time.

During the consultation, boards argued that only salary and benefits should  be negotiable, leaving  everything  else  for  management  to decide. They  also  opposed  the right to  strike. The federations lobbied for full or open scope bargaining: anything put on the table would be negotiable. Teachers won this right. They also won the right to  strike, which came with  the proviso that principals and vice-principals, still federation members then, would have to remain on duty in the schools during any sanction.

For the first time in their long history, teachers had the statutory right to bargain and boards had  to   negotiate   with  them  in  good  faith. Old  agreements, some  only  five  or  six  pages, eventually became lengthy documents outlining the rights and responsibilities of  both  parties. Teachers gradually won agreement on provisions covering such issues as class size, preparation and supervision time, length of the school day, grievance procedures, just cause and human rights clauses, leave plans, and much more.

From boom to bust – the teacher surplus

The baby boom ended by the mid-1960s and there followed years of declining enrolments. In 1971 elementary school enrolments dropped by almost 9,000 students. For the first time since the Dirty Thirties teacher college graduates couldn’t find jobs. Elementary teachers faced layoffs and redundancy. For the most part, school boards followed the principle of seniority, but in the absence of collective agreement protections there were many abuses.

Teachers who had always received satisfactory evaluations suddenly got poor reports and faced termination. New hires were told to sign letters of resignation when they signed contracts so boards could say they had no redundancy at year’s end. Some administrators created a cadre of “protected programs” that really protected selected teachers rather than the programs. Many married women were pressured to resign or to go part-time to save jobs for others. Women who had left the profession when they started families (before there was statutory maternity leave) either could not find jobs or were locked into part-time positions. Between 1971 and 1978 the number of elementary teachers declined by 5,500; however, the number of men went up by 10 percent while the number of women declined by 5 percent.21

The  federations  worked  to  reverse  teacher  attrition  by  negotiating collective agreement provisions, some of which are still key today. These included:

  • Pupil-teacher ratios to keep boards from declaring unjustifiable surpluses
  • Seniority and redundancy procedures with objective, impersonal criteria to identify who would be laid off
  • Job-sharing clauses, seniority protection for part-time teachers, deferred salary leave plans, early retirement incentives, and other creative solutions.

Today elementary schools face another period of declining enrolment. The 2006 ETFO Annual Meeting voted in favour of negotiating job-sharing language into current collective agreements.



The federations were leaders in seeking improvements in salaries and working conditions for their members that eventually became standard practice and provincial law. Today’s teachers continue to benefit from those protections.

But their struggle was by no means over. In the next two decades, women would seek equal opportunity for promotion; the federations would take a hard look at their grid structures in response to provincial pay equity legislation; equity-seeking groups would begin to make their voices heard; and the federations would battle Bob Rae’s Social Contract and Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution.


1.  Gaskell, Sandra, “The Problems and Professionalism of Women Elementary Public School Teachers in Ontario, 1944-1954.” Doctor of Education Thesis, Toronto: OISE, University of Toronto, 1989, p. 41.

2.  Hopkins, R.A. The Long March. Toronto: Baxter Publishing, 1969, pp. 120,155.

3.  Gaskell, p.24.

4.  Gaskell, p. 156. In the immediate postwar period almost 6 percent of the province’s elementary  teachers operated on letters of permission.

5.  Labatt, Mary, Always a Journey, Federation of Women Teachers’ Associa- tions of Ontario, 1993, p. 61.

6.  Hopkins, p. 206.

7.  Labatt, p. 47.

8.  Educational Courier, February 1947.

9.  Hopkins, p. 209.

10.  Hopkins, p. 182.

11.  Gaskell, p. 134.

12.  Gaskell, p. 22.

13.  Gaskell, pp. 69-71.

14.  Gaskell, p. 204.

15.  Gaskell, p. 146.

16.  Gaskell, p. 203.

17.  Gaskell, p. 33. By 1951 about one third of women teachers were married.

18.  Labatt, p. 126.

19.  FWTAO Bulletin February 1954.

20.  It recommended: local negotiations with teachers forming their own bargaining committees but boards able to hire professional negotiators; principals were encouraged to negotiate separately from the teachers; the scope of negotiations was limited to compensation; the establish- ment of a Professional Research Bureau to collate and disseminate data; the establishment of an adjudicative tribunal, appointed and paid by the government to make final and binding decisions in the event of an impasse in negotiations.

21.  Labatt, pp. 232-39.