In 2001, the OSSTF/FEESO Human Rights Committee and the Provincial Executive recommended to Provincial Council that an award be established to recognize the work of Jim Forster in the area of human rights and equity. Subsequently, the Jim Forster Human Rights Award was established by Provincial Council.
As president of the former OSSTF/FEESO District 15, Toronto, Forster was an advocate for the empowerment of teachers. During his District presidency, he made progress on improvements to teacher working conditions, including class size.
Elected to the Provincial Executive in 1972, Forster continued to advocate for better learning and teaching conditions. Convinced that a legislative framework for collective bargaining for teachers was essential, he campaigned for these rights as president in 1975 and worked with the Bill Davis Conservative government to produce the School Boards and Teachers’ Collective Negotiations Act. This legislation was one of the more progressive pieces of bargaining legislation anywhere, until it was repealed by the Harris government.
Forster was the first OSSTF/FEESO provincial president to serve two terms, and it was during his presidency that the Federation accepted his resolution to include sexual orientation in its human rights bylaws.
After joining provincial staff, Forster helped to train District and Bargaining Unit officers in the grievance/arbitration process. He also worked to streamline the process at OSSTF/FEESO’s annual meetings, and for years he coordinated and trained AMPA speakers.
Appointed Associate General Secretary in 1985, he became responsible for the support staff at Provincial Office, and in this capacity he helped develop a training program, put in place the workplace sexual harassment policy, and made it a priority to ensure equal opportunity for women employed by the Federation.
A key supporter of OSSTF/FEESO’s organizing efforts, Forster always recognized the crucial contributions made by all educational workers.
Forster held appointed positions with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, and at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. From 1985 to 1993, he served on the executive board of the International Federation of Free Teacher Unions and participated in the creation of its successor, Education International, a global organization representing education workers.
Councillors at the November 2001 meeting of Provincial Council were witnesses to a bit of Federation history—the first presentation of the James Forster Human Rights Award. Roberta Fuller, District 14, Kawartha Pine Ridge received the award, which recognizes exemplary dedication in the struggle for equity and the promotion of human rights locally, provincially and/or internationally over a number of years.
Fuller was a presenter at the World Anti-Racism Conference in 1995 and 1997. She also served as a facilitator for the CLC Equity and Anti-Racism Conference in 1997, and has served on the B’nai Brith Human Rights Committee since 1998. She was awarded the YMCA’s Peace Medallion for fostering tolerance, acceptance and peace in 1998.
Jim Forster briefly came out of retirement to present Fuller with the award that bears his name in recognition of his many years of dedication to OSSTF/FEESO and his lifelong commitment to equity and justice.
/Carlos Santander-Maturana is an educational assistant from District 6A, Thunder Bay and is also a member of the provincial Human Rights Committee.