Collective Bargaining

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[accordion-item title=”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.

[accordion-item title=”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.

[accordion-item title=”3) Who does the collective agreement belong to?”]
The parties to a collective agreement (i.e., the organizations that are responsible for the negotiation and administration of the collective agreement) are the union and the employer. In a sense, they “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.

[accordion-item title=”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.


[accordion-item title=”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 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.

[accordion-item title=”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, 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 (for example, in 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 “the problem” but, quite often, it can be a route for all parties to sit down and find creative “win-win” solutions.

[accordion-item title=”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.

Why Union?

Unions make a difference both at work and in the quality of life you earn. We call that difference the union advantage.

Collective Bargaining and ETFO

[accordion-item title=”1) What does it mean to be an ETFO member?”]
Being an ETFO member means that you belong to the largest teachers’ federation in Canada. Since 1998, ETFO has been a leader in setting the standard for fair salaries and benefits, as well as improved working conditions for Ontario’s elementary public school teachers and other education professionals. ETFO is strong because of the participation of its 83,000 members in ETFO activities, including collective bargaining.

[accordion-item title=”2) What types of issues can ETFO bargain collectively about?”]
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.

[accordion-item title=”3) What kinds of improvements has ETFO achieved for its members through collective bargaining?”]
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
  • Benefits
  • 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


[accordion-item title=”4) What about ETFO DECE members? What has ETFO done through collective bargaining to improve their working conditions and professional status?”]
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.

[accordion-item title=”5) Are ETFO members’ pensions a collective bargaining issue?”]No. ETFO members’ pension contributions and pension earnings are not subject to negotiation through collective bargaining.

[accordion-item title=”6) Are there other unions that represent public school teachers in Ontario? “]
Yes. Public school teachers in Ontario are represented by four teacher unions:

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) represents approximately 83,000 elementary Teachers and Occasional Teachers working in Ontario’s public school boards. ETFO is the largest teacher federation in Canada.
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.

[accordion-item title=”7) What is “member solidarity”? Why is this important during collective bargaining?”]
Solidarity is recognized as a fundamental characteristic of unions and union members. Solidarity means to stand together in support of each other and speaking with one voice through ETFO.

During collective bargaining, solidarity among ETFO members is invaluable – the sound of over 83,000 voices speaking together can and does have a powerful impact at the bargaining table. Strong statements of solidarity from ETFO members, particularly about bargaining, serve as proof of member cohesiveness and support for the Federation. This often speeds up the bargaining process and results in improved collective agreements for members.

Communicating About Bargaining

[accordion-item title=”1) I’m not getting emails/calls/mail from ETFO. How do I find out if ETFO has my current contact information?”]
Check out the section called Stay in Touch. You’ll find information in that section about how to update your contact information with ETFO.

[accordion-item title=”2) I’ve just read an editorial in my local newspaper about ETFO collective bargaining. How do I make sure that what I read is an accurate depiction of what’s happening?”]
ETFO members cannot rely on the media to carry our message in an accurate and effective way. We need to maintain a healthy sense of skepticism when reading anything about ETFO negotiations in the press or online, or listening to bargaining news on the radio and TV.

To receive the most accurate information about collective bargaining, always go to the source – ETFO and your ETFO local. As negotiations pick up speed, ETFO members should make it a priority to stay on top of bargaining updates from ETFO. You can do this by:

  • Attending local collective bargaining information meetings;
  • Bookmarking the website address www.etfocb.ca, and visiting the website frequently;
  • Subscribing to ETFO’s collective bargaining e-newsletter through either www.etfo.ca or this site;
  • Making sure you read the ETFO Collective Bargaining Bulletins distributed to you through your ETFO local;
  • Making sure you receive local newsletters about bargaining and are on your local’s email distribution list and/or phone tree;
  • Subscribing to ETFO’s (and your local’s) Twitter feed;
  • Downloading ETFO’s collective bargaining app to get up-to-the-minute information about bargaining;
  • Speaking with a local representative who can answer your questions about bargaining;

Asking your steward to arrange a school visit from the local president (or other elected representative) to discuss bargaining issues and the latest developments.

[accordion-item title=”3) A parent has asked me why teachers are asking for contract improvements when the government is cost cutting in other sectors. How do I respond?”]
We need to remember that to a parent, the single most important voice for the Federation is the educator in the classroom, and the most important message is that educator’s own story.

Every educator knows the overload we face due to increased workload demands and decreased personnel in schools – and how that impacts on our students. Every educator knows that student programming will benefit when more teachers and support personnel staff our schools, which can be achieved by increasing preparation time or reducing class sizes.

Drawing on their own personal experiences when answering questions from parents is the most powerful way ETFO members can counter negative information “out there” in news items, editorials or online.

[accordion-item title=”4) My school board sent me an update about collective bargaining. Is it allowed to do that?”]
School boards can communicate limited information to ETFO members about collective bargaining, such as:

  • general statements that that the board remains committed to negotiating in good faith;
  • provide factual responses to statements made by the Federation.

School boards (including school administrators) should not:

  • ask ETFO members about their Federation activities or views about a strike;
  • use language designed to influence an ETFO member’s decision about a participating in a strike vote, legal strike or any other Federation activity or event;
  • discriminate against ETFO members who actively support the Federation by intentionally assigning them undesirable work;
  • ask ETFO members (including School Stewards) about internal affairs of the Federation such as strike strategy or meetings;
  • take part in a petition or circular against the Federation or encourage its circulation.

ETFO members who receive concerning verbal or written communication about collective bargaining from their school board or school administrator should immediately refer the matter to their ETFO local office.

Have another question about collective bargaining? Ask us! Ask Your Question