1) What is 'collective bargaining'?
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.
2) What is the difference between “collective bargaining” and a “collective agreement”?
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.
3) Who does the collective agreement belong to?
The parties to a collective agreement are the entities that are responsible for the negotiation and administration of the collective agreement, which are the union and the employer. These two parties “own” the collective agreement that they negotiate with each other.
In the case of ETFO, the parties to both central and local agreements are ETFO Provincial and individual school boards.
4) Why is it important to bargain collectively?
There are several reasons why it’s important that teachers and education professionals bargain as a group (i.e., collectively). For ETFO members, the strength in numbers involved in collective bargaining:
- provides us with collective agreements that are stable, secure, and legally binding;
- supports and strengthens our professionalism by providing us with greater involvement in the decision-making process in our schools and workplaces;
- clearly defines the conditions of our employment, which minimizes uncertainty and ambiguity on the part of both educators and school boards.
5) I didn’t have collective bargaining rights before I became a member of ETFO. Can you explain why those rights are important?
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 respected, work in a safe and healthy environment and have their voices heard by their employer. Bargaining collectively (i.e., bargaining together) gives educators more 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.
6) Is collective bargaining in the public’s interest?
Yes. Collective bargaining is a problem-solving activity that’s legally binding and recognized by its participants. Instead of allowing workplace issues to linger and become serious problems, collective bargaining offers an opportunity to discuss and solve problems in an orderly and effective manner.
Some economists contend that the lack of collective bargaining in certain jurisdictions (like certain American “right to work” states) prevents the resolution of long-term disputes. This means that problems affecting morale and productivity go unresolved for long periods of time, eventually resulting in massive workplace disruption.
Eliminating collective bargaining about monetary items can also contribute to economic instability. For example, many studies have shown that American states that deny public workers the right to bargain collectively are in no better fiscal shape (and in many cases, are worse off) than states that allow workers to bargain collectively.
So collective bargaining really isn’t a “problem” but, quite often, a useful way to sit down and find creative “win-win” solutions.
7) Why is it important for teachers to support not only their Federation, but also a union-friendly environment in Ontario?
Unions helped build the middle class. The eight-hour work day, pensions, minimum wages, employment standards, equal pay, health and safety legislation, pregnancy and parental leave and other initiatives were first negotiated by unionized workers and then extended to all. These advancements have created stability and rights for working families. Since the 1990s, however, unions have been under attack – first in the private sector and now in the public sector.
For more information about the value of unions and the “union advantage” that benefits not just union members but everyone, check out Why Unions? on the Canadian Labour Congress’s website.