100 Years Strong: 1919–2019

Chapter One · Chapter Three — Taking Our Place at the Table

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Chapter Three — Taking Our Place at the Table

Taking Our Place at the Table:Collective Bargaining and Member Protection

Since its establishment on December 30, 1919, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) has had, as its first and foremost raison d’être, member protection. The formation of OSSTF/FEESO grew out of concern for the economic well-being of high school teachers in Ontario, and through its initial years, the work of the Federation was primarily concerned with salaries, tenure and, pension (or superannuation, as it was formerly called).

Over the past 100 years, OSSTF/FEESO has spent a lot of time at bargaining tables and one thing is certain, it’s not all about the money. Sure it matters, but as individuals and as a group, OSSTF/FEESO’s priority has remained focused on protecting and enhancing public education. That plus the decades of hard work OSSTF/FEESO members have put into earning and keeping those rights is what makes bargaining rights so important.

When OSSTF/FEESO was initially founded, every year each member bargained their own agreement, and it was mostly all about worker’s obligations and the employer’s rights.

In 1926, the federation started to push for a standard contract that continued from year to year.  It took five years, until 1931, to work it out. It was just two pages long and still, its use by school boards was voluntary. Almost twenty years later, OSSTF/FEESO finally got the Province to ensure all school boards use a standard contract. A year after that, they recognized the right of OSSTF/FEESO to bargain rights collectively. It was huge.

Roll ahead to the early 1970s, and things started to go sideways. The government was looking at no right to strike, or bargain anything but wages. That wasn’t going to work and in the next three years, there were 28 strikes. At one point, 8000 teachers threatened to resign and a province-wide strike in 1973 finally got the government to drop the idea.

The 1980s to the early 2000s were dominated by government-imposed changes that would alter public education and education worker terms and conditions of employment forever. The 1980s saw OSSTF/FEESO fight against Bill 30, a bill that sought to extend full funding for Catholic Schools. This fight led to a Constitutional challenge taken all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. In the 1990s OSSTF/FEESO’s focus shifted towards protecting pensions as the government legislated changes that forced the Teacher Superannuation Fund and Teacher Superannuation Adjustment Fund to become the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP). Not to be outdone, the mid-1990s to early 2000s were followed by the extremely tumultuous Social Contract followed by the Mike Harris “Common Sense Revolution.”

Bargaining changed forever during the Liberal government’s leadership from 2003-2018. From the imposition of Bill 115, strike action, a Charter challenge, and the eventual passage of Bill 122 which created of the School Board Collective Bargaining Act (SBCBA); there have been some significant gains for OSSTF/FEESO members, but in many ways the Liberals would create even greater challenges for the negotiation process for education workers in Ontario for the foreseeable future.  

In 2018, the Ford Conservative government was elected. Thus far, their focus has been on cuts to funding, increasing class sizes, undermining public education, and legislation that imposes wage controls on salary and benefits for education workers. Bargaining has begun but the outcome is certainly unclear at this time.    

Throughout our history OSSTF/FEESO members have sacrificed a lot, but in the end, we acquired the right to strike, bargaining in good faith, and no restrictions on the bargaining agenda. We have made the most of it, we’ve bargained for smaller classes, increases in per-student funding, resources for special needs, and much more that directly affects our students.

Despite the current challenges, our membership and bargaining team is determined to uphold the bargaining rights that have taken so long to obtain. That determination comes from an understanding that there is no other option.

Collective bargaining, it’s how we do what’s right for public education in Ontario.

Strike Action 2015 – District 3, April 27

Strike Action 2015 – District 13