1) What is a collective agreement?
A collective agreement is a written contract covering a group of employees who are represented by a union. It contains terms governing the conditions of employment. It also contains the rights, privileges and duties of the employer, the trade union and the employees. ETFO is the only union that can bargain collective agreements for elementary public school teachers. Government legislation mandates that ETFO engage in two-tier bargaining – centrally with the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association and locally with individual school boards. In local bargaining, ETFO bargains separate collective agreements with each school board on behalf of the ETFO members who work there. When ETFO and OPSBA (or an individual school board) sit down to negotiate a collective agreement, it’s called “collective bargaining”.
2) Why is it important to bargain collectively?
There are several reasons why it’s important that teachers and education workers bargain as a group (i.e., collectively). For ETFO members, the strength in numbers involved in collective bargaining:
- provides us with a collective agreement that’s 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 education workers and school boards.
3) 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 states) prevents the resolution of long-term disputes within government, allowing problems that impact on workplace morale and productivity to go unresolved. 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.
3) 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, check out: Canadian Labour Congress, Union Advantage 2014.