A Collective Bargaining Primer
for ETFO Members
Here are some collective bargaining questions that are frequently asked by ETFO members. We hope these answers give members a better sense of how collective bargaining in Ontario’s education sector works and of the significance of collective bargaining in their personal and professional lives.
- What is collective bargaining?
- I didn’t have collective bargaining rights before I became a member of ETFO. Can you explain why those rights are important?
- What is the difference between “collective bargaining” and a “collective agreement”?
- How many unions represent public school Teachers in Ontario?
- What role does the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF) play in collective bargaining?
- What types of issues can ETFO bargain collectively about?
- What kinds of improvements has ETFO achieved for its members through collective bargaining?
- What about ETFO DECE members? What has ETFO done through collective bargaining to improve their working conditions and professional status?
- Are ETFO members’ pensions a collective bargaining issue?
- Are there rules that need to be followed when ETFO bargains collectively?
- How does central table bargaining work?
- What are the names of the representatives that bargain on behalf of school boards at the central bargaining table?
- Who are the “parties” to an ETFO collective agreement?
- When do ETFO collective agreements expire?
- If a collective agreement expires, does it mean that everything in that collective agreement has to be re-negotiated into a new collective agreement?
- Are there any exceptions to this restriction about altering collective agreement terms?
- Does ETFO have to wait until collective agreements expire before it can start bargaining a new collective agreement?
Collective bargaining occurs when a group of people in a workplace band together to increase their negotiating power. For instance, a single elementary educator might feel that a certain improvement that would support the needs of special education students should be implemented by the school board, but that educator has limited power to get the school board to agree. If all elementary educators at the school board are made aware of the need for the new measure and work together, there is a much greater chance that the school board will agree.
Being an ETFO member means that the voices of individual elementary educators are heard together and can be made into a goal of the union. Over time, this results in improvements to both educators’ working conditions and students’ learning conditions.
When you become part of a union like ETFO, you gain certain rights under the law that non-unionized workers don’t have. The most important of those rights is the ability to bargain the terms of your work with your employer as part of a larger collective unit, rather than having to negotiate those terms by yourself.
Every educator wants to be fairly compensated for the work they do. They also want to be treated fairly at work, have the training, tools and working conditions necessary to do their jobs effectively, have their professionalism recognized, work in a safe and healthy environment and have their voices respected by their employer. Bargaining collectively (i.e., bargaining together) provides educators with the strength to achieve those goals.
Your membership in a union like ETFO means that your voice carries greater weight in your workplace and at the bargaining table. Alone, one educator’s voice doesn’t have much of an impact on an employer that is bigger and better resourced. But when educators speak together with one voice, we’re more powerful and are better able to achieve our common goals to improve both educator working conditions and student learning conditions. Being part of a union like ETFO means we are stronger together.
Collective bargaining is the process by which a group of employees bargain as a unit (like a union) with their employer around wages, hours, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. The end goal of collective bargaining is a contract with the employer about those terms. That contract is called a collective agreement.
ETFO members’ collective agreements are divided into two parts: central terms and local terms.
Public school Teachers in Ontario are represented by four Teacher unions:
- Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) represents approximately 80,000 elementary Teachers and Occasional Teachers working in Ontario’s public school boards.
- Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) represents high school Teachers and Occasional Teachers who work in Ontario public school boards;
- Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) represents elementary and secondary Teachers and Occasional Teachers who work in Ontario’s Catholic school boards; and
- l’Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), represents elementary and secondary Teachers and Occasional Teachers who work in Ontario’s French-language school boards.
Under the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, which is legislation that determines how collective bargaining operates in the education sector, only these four unions have the right, by law, to bargain collectively for Teachers and Occasional Teachers who work in Ontario’s publicly funded public education system.
ETFO also represents about 3,000 other education professionals – Designated Early Childhood Educators (DECEs), Education Support Personnel (ESPs) and Professional Support Personnel (PSPs). These are education professionals who have chosen to become members of ETFO and who are represented by ETFO when they engage in collective bargaining.
OTF’s primary role is to act as the unified voice that advocates for the teaching profession, its member Teachers and publicly funded education. OTF is also a partner, along with the Government of Ontario, in the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. OTF is charged with representing the interests of all Teacher pension plan members – both active and retired.
While, ETFO, OSSTF, OECTA and AEFO are all members of OTF, OTF itself does not engage in collective bargaining.
To find out more about who does what in Ontario public education, check out this series of helpful videos developed by OTF.
With a couple of exceptions, there are very few restrictions around what can be negotiated through the collective bargaining process in Ontario’s education sector. The exceptions would include items that are covered by law. For example, neither ETFO nor the employer can reduce the rights ETFO members have to a safe and healthy work environment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) – however, ETFO and the employer can improve members’ health and safety rights beyond the minimum standards established by the OHSA.
ETFO members have a long history of bargaining significant improvements in both educator working conditions and student learning conditions. Their collective efforts – in schools and at the bargaining table — have contributed to making Ontario’s public education system one of the best in the world.
The right for educators to collectively bargain about a wide range of issues does not exist everywhere. In many parts of the United States, for example, the scope of what educators can bargain has been drastically eroded over the past thirty years. In many American states, educators effectively have no right to bargain collectively. Attacks on educators’ professionalism and influence in public education (including the restriction of educators’ collective bargaining rights) have had a negative impact on working and learning conditions in schools, as well as on student achievement, in many areas of the United States.
Many improvements to elementary educators’ working conditions and elementary students’ learning conditions exist due to ETFO’s collective bargaining efforts over the past twenty years. Those improvements are located in your collective agreement, and they include:
- Preparation time
- Limits around staff meetings outside the instructional day
- Supervision time limits
- Class size caps in Kindergarten
- Lower class size averages in the Junior and Intermediate divisions
- Limits on FDK/Grade 1 split grades
- Equal pay between elementary and secondary Teachers
- Sick leave
- Protection from discipline/termination without just cause
- Protection from harassment and discrimination in the workplace
- Access to personal leaves (e.g., paid/unpaid personal leave, self-funded leaves)
- Professional activity days
- Assessment and evaluation days
- Language supporting teacher professional judgement
- Salary top up for members who need family medical leave or critically ill child care leave
- Salary top up for pregnancy leave
- Holding the line on Ministry and school board initiatives
- Seniority hiring to long-term Occasional and permanent positions for Occasional Teachers
- Job security
- Paid professional learning
- Health and safety training during the instructional day
ETFO’s approach has been studied as a model of collective bargaining for DECEs. In Negotiating Status: The Impact of Union Contracts on the Professional Role of RECEs in Ontario’s Full-Day Kindergarten Programs, OISE’s Romona Gananathan describes how ETFO has used the collective bargaining process to advocate vigorously for our DECE members in the areas of salary, paid training, job security, no split shifts and improvements in employment standards.
No. ETFO members’ pension contributions and pension earnings are not subject to negotiation through collective bargaining.
Yes. In Ontario, the unions that represent educators who work in the publicly funded public education system must conduct collective bargaining under rules established by provincial legislation. That legislation is called the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act (or SBCBA). The SBCBA was enacted in 2014 and establishes a two-tier system of collective bargaining in the education sector. The two-tiers are:
- central (i.e., provincial) bargaining between ETFO and bargaining agents for school boards; and
- local bargaining between ETFO and individual school boards.
Bargaining about central terms in the collective agreement takes place at “central tables.”
Bargaining about local terms in the collective agreement takes place at “local tables.”
During central bargaining between ETFO and bargaining agents for school boards, the provincial government sits as a participant. The provincial government does not participate in local bargaining.
The SBCBA mandates that the four Teacher unions – ETFO, OSSTF, OECTA and AEFO – must bargain at four separate central tables for their Teacher and Occasional Teacher members.
In addition, ETFO is required to bargain at a separate central table for its DECE, ESP and PSP members. That central table is referred to as the ETFO “Education Worker” central table.
So ETFO conducts central bargaining at two different central tables:
- the Teacher/Occasional Teacher central table; and
- the Education Worker central table (for DECE, ESP and PSP members).
The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) is the representative agency that bargains on behalf of public school boards at the ETFO Teacher/Occasional Teacher central table.
The Council of Trustees’ Association (CTA) is the representative agency that bargains on behalf of all publicly funded school boards (i.e., public, Catholic, French-language) at the ETFO Education Worker central table.
Under the SBCBA, the parties to all ETFO collective agreements are:
- for ETFO Teacher and Occasional Teacher members: ETFO and OPSBA; and
- for DECE, ESP and PSP members: ETFO and CTA.
All education sector collective agreements (including all ETFO collective agreements) expire on August 31, 2019.
No. Unless there is an explicit expiry date connected to an item in the agreement, most items in your collective agreement remain in the agreement, even if it has expired.
One party to bargaining cannot unilaterally delete an item from your collective agreement, even if the agreement has expired. Any changes would need to be negotiated and agreed to by both parties to the collective agreement.
Yes. The union or the employer can temporarily alter certain terms and conditions of the collective agreement – but only while they are in a legal strike/lock-out position as defined by Ontario’s Labour Relations Act.
Once the legal strike/lock-out has ended, any temporary changes made to collective agreement terms also end.
No. Under the SBCBA, either party to a collective agreement (i.e., the union or the agency that bargains for school boards) can give what is called “notice to bargain” up to 90 days before the expiry of the collective agreement. Giving notice to bargain requires the parties to start the bargaining process.
Under the SBCBA, the Minister of Education has the authority to make a regulation that would allow notice to bargain to be given up to 180 days before the expiry of a collective agreement.
Have another question about collective bargaining? Ask us!