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Sharon O'Halloran posing at ETFO headquarters

The Story of ETFO is a Story of the Fight for Women's Rights

Sharon O'Halloran

The story of ETFO is, in many ways, the story of the fight for women and women’s rights, beginning with equal pay for women, fighting for pregnancy and parental leave – later adopted across the province – and ensuring that women’s voices are heard at decision-making tables. Many of ETFO’s accomplishments have been led by women and supported by our allies who recognize that bias and institutional barriers are built into our systems.

According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, while women make up just over half of the Canadian population, we continue to be underrepresented in political and professional leadership positions. This is why women fought so hard to enshrine women’s programs and women’s leadership when ETFO was formed in 1998. It is also why we continue to invest six per cent of ETFO’s annual budget in women’s programs.

Barriers to leadership multiply for women who face intersecting forms of discrimination, such as racism, colonialism, ableism and homophobia. As an organization committed to equity and social justice, ETFO has intentionally addressed the intersectionality of these and other factors to ensure diverse member representation in our general and women’s programs and in leadership opportunities within our union. Our commitment to gender equity is part of our broader, enduring commitment to social justice. Our goal is to have intentional and purposeful leadership development opportunities for women and to recognize how barriers can intersect.

Programs like Mentor Coaching, Indigenous Women’s Mentorship Program, Visions, Women Addressing Gender-Based Workplace Violence, Leaders for Tomorrow, Leadership Forum for Black Women, Women’s Collective Bargaining Issues, and Intersectional Allyship among others, provide excellent opportunities for women members to develop their critical thinking and leadership skills. They create pathways and networks of support for women and set ETFO apart as an equity-seeking organization.

The 2023-24 school year was a busy one for educators across the province and at the provincial office. We advocated for our members at the bargaining table, in the courts, at provincial working groups, through our campaigns and our lobby work. We took our demand for fair compensation and our application to enforce negotiated language to address violence to the Labour Board and stood up for our democratic rights at the Supreme Court.

On May 14, local leaders and members of your provincial Executive attended a lobby day at Queen’s Park in Toronto to speak directly to members of provincial parliament about violence in schools and the critical need to invest in resources and supports for students and educators.

Students need understanding, support and timely access to assessments to identify exceptionalities and learning needs. We will continue to pressure the government to address chronic underfunding in our public schools, to reduce class sizes, to gather accurate data about violence, and to ensure that funding for special education programs and services is based on student needs.

On May 29, ETFO received its salary arbitration decision. The Arbitration Board awarded ETFO’s 80,000 teacher and occasional teacher (OT) members salary increases of 11.25 per cent over the term of the 2022-2026 collective agreement – an 11.73 per cent increase when compounded over the four years. The compensation award applies to salary grids, wage schedules, applicable premiums and allowances, and the daily OT rate, and represents the highest increase over the term of an agreement in more than a decade. Over the course of the agreement, ETFO expects the compounded compensation increase for daily OTs moving to the new baseline average rate to be in the range of 14 to 15 per cent.

Fair compensation is not only about acknowledging the indispensable contributions of educators; it’s also the cornerstone of a sustainable public education system. It honours expertise and helps ensure dedicated, qualified individuals feel valued and remain in the teaching profession.

As you begin your much-deserved summer break, I encourage you to get involved in your union and explore all ETFO has to offer, including the many incredible programs available for both women and the general membership.

Wishing you a restful summer break.

– Sharon O’Halloran