1) Class Size
The benefits of smaller class size are well documented in the research literature. But no ETFO member who has ever faced a room of 35 Junior or Intermediate students’ needs to consult the research to understand how important manageable class sizes are to achieving meaningful learning.
While ETFO has made progress in reducing primary class size, setting caps on FDK classes and correcting discrepancies between school boards around Grades 4-8 average class size, our data indicates that class size is still a major obstacle to creating optimal teaching and learning conditions, particularly in the junior and intermediate divisions and in FDK.
Smaller class sizes are important because:
- They allow for the kind of extra attention to individual students that all teachers would like to be able to provide. They increase the teacher’s ability to connect in a meaningful way with each child.
- The demands upon the system – at both the Ministry and the board levels – have been increasing, not decreasing. The curriculum continues to be challenging, particularly for teachers with combined grades. Student assessment and reporting processes have increased in both number and complexity.
- Smaller classes mean a higher ratio of adults to children in the classroom and in schools. This translates into safer and more secure learning environments, both within individual classrooms and within schools generally.
Research links smaller class sizes in the early years with a range of more favourable academic and social outcomes later on, including increased graduation rates.
2) Health and Safety
In the 2014 and 2019 rounds of bargaining, one of the most significant health and safety issues affecting ETFO members concerned workplace violence, workplace harassment and serious student incidents. Many school boards continue to fall short of legislative and policy requirements to protect ETFO members. These shortfalls mean that ETFO members are placed in dangerous situations and can be seriously injured at work. ETFO’s DECE, ESP and PSP members are particularly vulnerable to the risk of harm from students with a history of violent behaviour due to:
- The failure of some school boards to provide adequate information about students with a history of violent behaviour through mechanisms like safety plans; and
- The lack of information, instruction and training about the related workplace violence program related to a student with a history of violent behaviour.
In the 2019 round of bargaining, ETFO was able to make many gains related to health and safety, including the continuation of the Provincial Working Group for Health and Safety, a half day of health and safety training related to violence and an online violent incident reporting tool, with incident data to be shared with locals.
Throughout the global COVID-19 Pandemic, gaps in health and safety protections have become visible to members and the public. Issues such as overcrowded classrooms that do not allow for physical distancing, lack of personal protective equipment and lack of adequate classroom ventilation have become forefront issues in health and safety.
For more information about health and safety, see the ETFO health and safety site: http://etfohealthandsafety.ca/
3) Pregnancy and Parental Leave
Pregnancy and parental leave improvements have been a priority for ETFO for many years. As an organization that is predominately female, the issues of pregnancy leave, supplemental employment benefits (SEB), parental leave entitlements, extended parental leave provisions and job protection have been extremely important to our members and their families.
ETFO has been successful in bargaining improved pregnancy and parental provisions in both central and local bargaining in previous years, including:
- provisions that address a mother’s/parent’s right to take leave from work, job protection and earnings replacement;
- an minimum eight week SEB top up available to ETFO’s female members (birthmothers); and
- agreements that allowed ETFO’s long term occasional and hourly paid members who work more than 26 hours per week to access SEB.
Even with these successes, there is still much work to be done in the area of improving pregnancy and parental leave benefits for ETFO members. Other sectors (e.g., nursing, police services, fire fighters, colleges and universities, Ontario public service employees, etc.) have far superior top up entitlements that are not restricted to the birth mother but can often be accessed by either parent.
4) Teacher Workload
Elementary teachers want to concentrate on teaching. But the demands of today’s classroom are placing a huge burden on teachers’ time and distracting from their core priority, which is the individual student.
Workload an issue that directly affects the quality of education elementary teachers are able to deliver for their students. Already, elementary school teachers spend hours outside of classroom time preparing lessons, marking assessments, supervising at recess or lunch hour and doing any number of other activities related to their jobs. With the increased emphasis on assessment and evaluation today from both the Ministry of Education and school boards, negotiating time for student assessment or increased preparation time are critical issues for many ETFO members.
5) Teaching Principals and Vice Principals
In virtually every school board in the province (except York Region District School Board), vice-principals and principals are assigned teaching duties.
Data from the Ministry of Education reveal that about 380 teaching positions were filled by principals and vice principals in the 2013-14 school year, rather than by teachers. The money to fund teaching principals and vice principals comes out of the funding formula line which is meant to fund classroom teaching.
There is no doubt these assignments have a detrimental impact on the quality of education provided to Ontario’s elementary students.
School administrators with teaching responsibilities are challenged by their divided role. It is not uncommon for teaching principals or vice principals to shut down student programming to attend to urgent matters that arise within the school. That means students don’t get the instruction and support they need.
In addition, when school administrators spend part of their time teaching, they are less able to concentrate on many important administrative functions. Sometimes this can mean downloading an administrator’s responsibilities onto school staff.
6) Experience Credit for all Occasional Teaching Work
Credited experience for occasional teaching work varies significantly from board to board. Some boards grant only internal experience, some give no credit for daily casual work, some give pro-rated credit for daily casual work. Other boards give credit for all teaching experience and some give credit for related work as well.
ETFO’s position in previous bargaining rounds is that all occasional teaching experience – daily, short term and long term — is valuable and deserves the same recognition for experience credit purposes.
7) Paid Time for Professional Training
Over the course of a year there could be many new initiatives or implementation changes in existing curricula with which ETFO occasional teacher members must implement in classrooms.
However, occasional teachers are often not allowed to access board sponsored professional learning activities designed to assist permanent teachers with the implementation of new initiatives. If they are allowed to attend it is often on their own time. Attendance at sessions held during the instructional day means that the occasional teacher must forgo a day’s work for the day to gain professional knowledge needed to do their jobs.
The lack of paid professional learning for occasional teachers means that instruction is not implemented as effectively as they could be.
8) Related Credit Experience for DECE Members
ETFO’s Designated Early Childhood Educators (DECEs) have entered employment with school boards from a wide variety of other institutions that offer daycare and early education programs. The knowledge, experience and skill that DECEs with experience bring to the Kindergarten education program should be acknowledged by recognizing this experience and compensating them appropriately.
9) Professional Activity Time for DECE Members
Professional activity time is a highly valued and necessary tool for ETFO’s DECE members. It often represents the only time during the instructional day when DECEs have some control over their schedule in order to engage in professional activities. Not every DECE local collective agreement includes professional activity time. Even when the collective agreement does provide for professional activity time, principals have the right to either direct or approve a DECE member’s use of this time.
Obtaining predictable blocks of professional activity time over which DECE members have more control has been a goal for ETFO in previous rounds of bargaining.
10) Paid Training for Specialized Job Assignments for ESP and PSP Members
ETFO’s ESP and PSP members don’t receive paid training during the instructional day to assist them in meeting the needs of their specialized job assignments. The training is important and necessary to provide the best learning environment for students. For example, some students have needs that require specialized equipment in order to meet curriculum requirements and/or to attend school. Often these students are supported by ESP and PSP workers, who do not receive the paid training required that would make it easier for them to fulfil their professional obligations to students.
11) Benefits: A Key Bargaining Issue
A QUICK HISTORY OF THE ETFO ELHT
Prior 2014, ETFO members received benefits either through their school board or, in a few cases, through their ETFO local. As a result of provincial negotiations, the responsibility of managing benefits for ETFO members was eventually transferred from individual school boards to the ETFO Employee Life and Health Trust (ELHT). Other education sector unions (OSSTF, CUPE, OECTA, AEFO, etc.) also negotiated their own ELHTs in 2014.
So – what is the ETFO ELHT? Essentially, it’s the entity that oversees benefits and administers the pool of money negotiated by ETFO for the sole purpose of providing eligible members with benefits. The government provides the negotiated amount of money to individual school boards each year. The school boards, in turn, are to contribute that money to the ELHT to fund benefits for eligible members.
There are two separate “plans” in the ELHT: one contains benefits funding for eligible ETFO teacher and occasional teacher members and the other holds the benefits funding for eligible ETFO education worker members.
The ETFO ELHT is managed by a Board of Trustees that includes representatives from ETFO, the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association and the government. The Board of Trustees analyzes trends in benefits usage, thinks ahead and ensures there is adequate funding available for your benefits today, next year or ten years from now. This may sometimes mean that difficult decisions need to be made by the Board of Trustees to maintain the sustained health of the ELHT.
HOW THE ELHT IS FUNDED
When ETFO sits down with the government to talk about benefits, it does not negotiate what type of benefits will be provided – the ELHT determines the components of the benefits plan. Instead, ETFO negotiates the funding that will be received by the ELHT to provide benefits to eligible members.
The initial amount of money negotiated by ETFO in 2014 provided enough funding for the ELHT up to 2019-2020. That negotiated amount included built-in annual inflationary increases. Negotiated funding for benefits was based on: 1) the number of eligible permanent members that were entitled to benefits coverage; and 2) the employment status of those eligible members, i.e., whether they occupied full-time permanent or part-time permanent positions.
Benefits funding for eligible part-time members is pro-rated, which means that the funding the government provides is increased or reduced proportionally based on the full-time equivalent status (FTE) of the member.
Currently, the ELHT receives:
- $5,100 to pay for benefits for a full-time permanent ETFO member;
- $2,550 to pay for benefits for a half-time (0.5) permanent ETFO member.
FINANCIAL PRESSURES ON THE ELHT
When it negotiated funding for the ELHT, ETFO’s primary objective was to have a standardized benefits plan that would offer sufficient coverage to meet most eligible members’ needs. After that funding was negotiated, decisions were made to expand access to benefits and address existing coverage issues, while maintaining the long-term sustainability of the plan.
Attempting to meet these multiple (and sometimes competing) objectives has put some financial pressures on the ELHT.
In a few ETFO locals, past agreements between the local and the school board provided some part-time teachers with the ability to access full-time benefits without making premium contributions. A decision was made that those members could continue to receive full-time benefits from the ELHT, without making premium contributions, until August 31, 2020.
When a half-time teacher receives full-time benefits that are not fully funded by the government, the additional money needed to pay for those full-time benefits must be taken from the funding generated by the other ETFO members in the plan.
Long-Term Occasional Teachers
A long-standing goal for ETFO has been to strive to improve entitlements for occasional teacher members, who represent some of the lowest paid members in our Union. To move forward on that goal, a decision was made in 2015 to expand benefits eligibility, which meant that more long-term occasional (LTO) teachers are able to access benefits through the ELHT.
For example, the ELHT provides occasional teachers with LTO assignments greater than 90 days (or shorter in some locals, depending on local collective agreement language) with access to paid benefits. This is the case even though the terms negotiated during the 2014 round of bargaining don’t require benefits for LTO assignments.
Both of these scenarios – funding for many LTO teacher members and full benefits funding for some part-time teacher members – have contributed to some of the financial pressure on the Teacher/Occasional Teacher benefits plan that was not envisioned.
The funding plan developed for ETFO education workers’ benefits does not include expanded funding for part-time members or LTO education workers. Consequently, the benefit plan for ETFO education workers is in a stronger financial position at this time.
OTHER FINANCIAL PRESSURES ON THE ELHT
Additional funding pressures on the ELHT occur when a permanent member takes a pregnancy/parental leave.
Members on a pregnancy/parental leave are entitled to continue to receive full benefits during their statutory leave. When a member on pregnancy/parental leave is replaced by an LTO member, that LTO member is also entitled to receive benefits under the terms of the ELHT. In some cases, the LTO member may also take a pregnancy/parental leave and would be replaced by another LTO member. That means two members — and sometimes three members — are eligible to receive benefits, but the ELHT only receives funding to provide benefits for one member. Given the size of our membership and the number of statutory leaves that occur, this can create a significant strain on the ELHT.
In addition, inflation, increasing drug costs, the introduction of new drugs and technologies, etc., also contribute additional financial pressure on the ELHT.
NEGOTIATING FAIR FUNDING FOR BENEFITS RESTS ON MEMBER SOLIDARITY
During the 2019 round of central bargaining, the rising costs of benefits and the long-term sustainability of the ETFO ELHT will need to be addressed for the teacher/occasional teacher plan and the education worker plan. This will require ETFO to:
- negotiate an increase in per member benefits funding; or
- negotiate an increase to the total number of members who are funded for benefits.
Insured benefits are a critical component to your overall compensation package. Negotiating anything less than sustainable benefits funding in the next collective agreement would be a major concession with a significant financial impact on you and your colleagues.