Where We Came From

See the story of our union and the gains we have made through solidarity in collective bargaining and political action in this video that depicts the history of ETFO.

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ETFO prepares for new challenges in bargaining, with collective agreements expiring in 2012. Locals adopt bargaining goals which will improve both teacher working conditions and the quality of education for students. Members are urged to get informed and involved in a groundbreaking education and information campaign called “Control Your Future,” which includes the first-ever mobile app developed for a Canadian union.


ETFO sets closing the gap in funding between elementary and secondary students as a bargaining priority. A multi-faceted campaign reaches out to legislators, educators and the public in an effort to achieve better working conditions for teachers and improve the learning experience for students.

As part of the settlement, elementary teachers build on past success to achieve 240 minutes of preparation time per five-day teaching cycle. We also achieve a guaranteed cap on supervision time: a maximum of 80 minutes per week for every teacher in Ontario who does not already have a lower cap.

Despite a two-percent monetary penalty imposed by the government, real salary increases are still achieved. Benefits are defended and improved in the face of government restrictions.

Occasional teacher agreements scored significant salary increases, along with a host of improved working conditions, including improved accessibility for being hired into long term assignments and full-time positions. Eleven OT Locals reduce the number of days required to become a long-term occasional teacher.

Other standouts include an eight-hour working day for EI purposes for 13 additional locals, better leave provisions and enhanced union rights.


ETFO's "No Substitute" campaign won major gains for occasional teachers.


Two years after having signed takeover agreements with its locals, ETFO achieves major gains for occasional teachers through determined collective bargaining. Gains include teaching from the same timetable as the teacher being replaced and significant improvements in daily rates. Occasional teachers realize their goals, but the Near North Occasional Teacher Local has to stage a three-week strike before they achieve parity with their secondary school colleagues, making them the highest-paid elementary occasional teachers in the province.


A provincial bargaining framework leads to a first-ever four-year agreement. Local negotiations are conducted within this framework. ETFO wins landmark gains in its new contract, including:
• 200 minutes of guaranteed preparation time per five-day teaching cycle, phased in by 2008.
• Capped supervision time.
• A limit on instructional time.
• Salary increases totalling 10.6% over four years.
• Access to roughly $500 per teacher for individual professional development.
• gains by locals in parental, pregnancy, medical and personal leaves, as well as enhanced protection for members.

The prep-time victory was the culmination of a 17-year effort to secure 200 minutes per week for every ETFO member. Although some ETFO locals had achieved limited prep time in their own negotiations, this was the first time that a province-wide standard was established through which every ETFO member was guaranteed a minimum number of minutes of prep time. The Greater Essex Teacher Local becomes the first local in the province to guarantee its members 200 minutes of prep time.


ETFO embarks on Campaign 200, a wide-ranging initiative to change the antiquated working conditions of elementary teachers. The campaign posts billboards across the province and employs radio, newspaper and magazine advertising. It’s the first time ETFO has used mass-media advertising to promote its bargaining goals.



ETFO delegates approve a multi-year initiative to enhance bargaining. The Building for Tomorrow plan includes hiring additional bargaining staff, training for negotiators, a public relations campaign and enhanced technology to support bargaining. The Liberals win the October election and promise to inject more funding, scrap recertification and reduce class sizes.


ETFO launches an initiative called Fair Funding for Public Education, rolled out across the province in advance of an anticipated provincial election.

ETFO addresses serious working-condition and salary issues for occasional teachers, professional and educational support personnel in Renfrew County, taking all three locals on a combined strike. It is the first strike ever for these educational professionals. Full-time teachers show solidarity by refusing to pick up the work of their striking colleagues and become subject to a grievance by the board. The whole of ETFO stands behind the three smallest bargaining units in the province, providing financial support. With provincial and local support, the members achieve their goals. During arbitration, the board’s grievance is dismissed.

Premier Mike Harris put the education system back years with his ham-handed and ill-conceived program of cutbacks.


The provincial government unveils its teacher recertification plan. Bill 80 requires teachers to complete a prescribed set of 14 professional-development courses within a five-year period. ETFO responds with a multi-dimensional campaign which strips away the myths around recertification and calls on members to boycott the process. Fewer than 14% of teachers participate in the program. But the Harris government will not back down.

The Lambton-Kent DSB locks out its elementary teachers as they try to achieve salary parity with their secondary colleagues.


Bill 74, the Education Accountability Act, makes supervision of extra-curricular activities mandatory. It denies teachers the right to bargain around extra-curricular activities. After a public campaign by ETFO, the Minister announces she will not proclaim the part of the Bill that dealt with extra-curricular activities. Also in 2000, delegates to the annual meeting vote to join the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress.

Hamilton-Wentworth and Keewatin-Patricia DSBs become the next boards to lock out ETFO members during negotiations.


A year of tough bargaining: ETFO and the new school boards must amalgamate existing collective agreements – as many as six agreements would be combined into one. Many teacher benefits are removed from the Education Act and have to be renegotiated. School boards, hamstrung by the new funding formula, try to cut teacher wages and benefits and renegotiate staffing provisions. In more than 20 sets of negotiations, ETFO’s provincial office steps in to help locals reach agreements. Even so, there are two strikes (by Simcoe and Waterloo teachers) and York Region District School Board becomes the first board to lock out ETFO members. During a provincial election in June, ETFO works with teacher federations, other unions and community groups to fight for high-quality public education and against the government. While the government is re-elected, the Tories lose 17 seats, including that of Education Minister David Johnson.

July 1: The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario is created from a merger of the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario and the Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation. The first annual meeting of ETFO is held. Massive change comes to the Ontario education system as 129 school boards are forced to merge into 72. A new curriculum (with no resources for implementation), new report cards (with no technical support to produce them) and the threat of ongoing teacher testing prompt thousands of teachers to retire. Teachers are brought under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, putting them on the same footing as hundreds of thousands of other workers in Ontario when it comes to their bargaining rights. ETFO’s first annual meeting votes to take action to defeat the Harris Conservative government.

Despite opposition from all sectors of society, the government pushes Bill 160 through the legislature.


Protest against Harris cutbacks


126,000 teachers walk off the job to protest Bill 160, the Mike Harris government’s sweeping changes to the education system.


The Ontario College of Teachers is created.


After years of study and discussion, FWTAO and OPSTF achieve a final pay equity settlement, which gives non-degree teachers (almost all women) between $3,000 and $13,000 extra salary every year.

Mike Harris is elected premier and cuts $2 billion from the education system. The cuts reduce special-ed, ESL, music, physical education and many other programs. Class sizes increase, support staff are fired, libraries are closed and schools start to crumble for lack of maintenance. Teachers participate in the Days of Action protests but the government dismisses the hundreds of thousands of protestors as “special interests.”

Teachers were part of the protest movement against the so-called Social Contract.


The Social Contract Act forces up to 12 unpaid holidays on teachers, freezes their wages and grid positions and imposes staffing reductions. The federations use a surplus in the pension fund to offset some of the cutbacks, and negotiated layoffs by attrition.


Teachers win a historic victory as they become equal partners with government in the management of their pension fund.

FWTAO launches a lawsuit on behalf of OTs who were refused the opportunity to buy back their pensions. The lawsuit will ultimately succeed in getting millions of dollars in pension improvements for OTs.


As changes to the Education Act make schools more accessible to special-needs students, teachers’ federations fight for the funding needed to make the new programs work. They negotiate maximum class sizes and work to get the resources and time they need. In some cases, they negotiate preparation-time language as well.

Thousands of teachers rally for an equal partnership in the management of their pension fund.


More than 20,000 OTF members demonstrate outside the Liberal convention in Hamilton, and members of FWTAO and OPSTF occupy the office of the Minister of Education, to call for an equal partnership in managing their pension fund.


Thousands of teachers, mainly women, benefit from the passage of the Pay Equity Act.



Nearly 10,000 elementary teachers in Metro Toronto strike to support their need for more preparation time. In a historic settlement, they win 150 minutes of prep time per week, paving the way for virtually all other teachers in the province to win at least some prep time by 1990.


OPSTF signs first collective agreement for OTs in Kent County.


The “85 factor” (age plus years of service) is introduced as a temporary measure to encourage retirements. It later will become permanent.


OPSTF becomes the bargaining agent for Kent County OTs.


The provincial Inflation Restraint Act curtails teacher bargaining rights. It removes the right to strike and arbitration, extends collective agreements and holds salaries to levels set by government. The federations respond with a partially successful challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by pushing for non-monetary improvements in areas like transfers and promotions, and by training teachers to become more politically active in their communities.

Peel Region teachers on the picket line in 1979.


Peel members of FWTAO and OPSMTF become the first elementary school teachers in Ontario to strike.


Teachers achieve average salaries of $15,165 for women and $19,337 for men. That compares with average pay of $10,186 for supermarket cashiers, $14,252 for steelworkers and $27,000 for university professors.


Government passes the School Boards and Teachers’ Negotiations Act, giving teachers’ federations wide scope in collective bargaining and the right to strike. School boards had wanted to limit bargaining to salary and benefits and ban strikes.


Teachers’ federations help get their members the best agreements possible in the face of federal wage controls.


Teachers in 17 local bargaining units reach an impasse in contract talks. They submit resignations en masse, potentially leaving 180,000 students without teachers as schools re-open. The provincial government responds with legislation that mandates compulsory arbitration and denies the right to strike. On Dec. 18, teachers across Ontario submit their resignations en masse and walk off the job to protest the government’s bill banning the right to strike. About 80,000 teachers leave their classrooms; 30,000 attend a massive rally at Maple Leaf Gardens. The government backs down. The bill is withdrawn three days later.


The Qualifications Evaluation Council of Ontario (QECO) launches its first statement. Created by the teachers’ federations, QECO provides a system of consistent evaluation of a teacher’s qualifications.


Elementary teachers face layoffs as enrollment declines for the first time since the end of the war. With a lack of seniority protection in their collective agreements and a surplus of teachers, hiring, firing and promotions are increasingly at the whim of school boards.


One in five men are promoted to administrative jobs; one in 50 women is promoted.


Married women comprise two-thirds of the membership of the FWTAO. Despite discrimination in salaries and conditions of employment, married women are in the workforce to stay.


The salary schedule approved by the FWTAO and OPSMTF ranges from $3,600 for the holder of a Basic Teaching Certificate with no experience, to $11,500 for a Category A3 teacher with 10 years’ experience, a degree and an additional three years of study.


Teachers move from a pay system based on gender or grade level to one based on qualifications, years of experience and additional responsibility. This is the beginning of what has evolved into the salary grid. The salary grid is important because it eliminates individual bargaining, underbidding and divisions based on gender or grade level.


Teachers define taking a salary of less than $2,400 as “unethical.”


Women teachers’ salaries average about 82% of men’s, up from 67% in 1945.


The government responds to the teacher shortage by lowering standards. A grade 12 graduate who completes a six-week summer course can earn a temporary teaching certificate. In response, teachers’ federations begin their own professional development programs.


Five years after teachers began their campaign for pay equity, the Ontario government passes the Fair Remuneration for Female Employees Act, which legislates equal pay. But it takes another 20 years for all the inequities to be phased out of the system.


Pressured by the postwar baby boom, Ontario’s elementary schools are short more than 1,000 teachers. The number of elementary school teachers increased by more than 50%, to about 640,000, by 1956.


Teachers define taking a salary of less than $1,500 as “unprofessional.”


The Federation of Women Teachers Association of Ontario (FWTAO) endorses equal pay and opportunities for women and men teachers.

In 1945, teachers who married were reclassified as temporary employees in case they became pregnant.


Women teachers’ are paid 67% of men teachers’ salaries. A woman teacher’s contract becomes temporary after she marries in case she becomes pregnant.


The Teaching Profession Act passes. This Act establishes the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, and umbrella organization for teacher federations, and makes membership in the federations mandatory.

Formation of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA).

The Ontario Teachers’ Council becomes the Ontario Teachers’ Federation.

The Teaching Profession Act is passed, creating the Ontario Teachers’ Federation as an umbrella group for five affiliates. The Act gives statutory recognition to teachers’ federations and eliminates any questions about their right to represent their members. Membership soars, and the teachers’ federations became effective lobbyists and advocates for teachers.

Pro-education Premier George Drew was elected in 1943.


Boards are required to give reasons for dismissal in writing.
More than 200 women teachers spend their summer doing war production work at a plant in Scarborough. “Teachers expressed amazement at facilities provided for employees in a modern war plant,” reads a story in the company magazine. “Free bus service! Low cost sickness insurance and hospitalization! Free medical care … Two recesses a day with no children to look after … These we must assume from their surprise are not things usually provided for school teachers.”
Pro-education Premier George Drew is elected, with the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) as official opposition. With 93% of teachers favouring mandatory membership in their respective federations, it’s only a matter of time before mandatory membership becomes law.


Federal government declares teaching an essential services and forces teachers to remain in the positions they held in 1942-43. The measure makes it extremely difficult to bargain wage increases.


Formation of L’Association des enseignants francontariens (AEFO)
Teachers join the war effort by spending summers working in war industries or on farms. Others help the war effort by working with refugee children, raising money, doing administrative work, collecting paper, rubber and other materials needed by factories, and volunteering for any number of government committees.


The three major English teachers’ federations form the Ontario Teachers’ Council, later to become the Ontario Teachers’ Federation.


The government adopts the federations’ proposal for a model contract of employment and encourages school boards to use it. The federations successfully lobby the government to pass An Act Respecting Disputes Between Teachers and Boards/The Boards of Reference Act, enabling teachers to challenge dismissals in court.

A depression-era classroom. Teachers were pitted against each other in the search for jobs.


Without unions, teachers face hardships during the Depression. Boards threaten firings unless teachers accept pay cuts. Especially in rural areas, out-of-work teachers undercut each other for the chance to get a job.

Federations begin to establish programs to help individual teachers, such as counselling services, legal help, insurance plans, an employment exchange and a sick benefit fund.


Average salaries are $1,703 for men and $1,155 for women. Through the Depression years, however, men teachers lose 38% of their salaries and women 55%.


Teachers’ federations begin lobbying for model individual contracts.


After teaching for 40 years, teachers are eligible for a pension of $250 per year.


Average salaries for teachers range from $1,168 to $2,321 for men, $994 to $1,397 for women.


Teacher training in 1900


The Ontario Public School Men Teachers’ Federation is formed. The founders had lobbied for one federation for all teachers.

To cut costs, the Toronto Board stops paying $100 annual increments for women, although it continues to pay them to men. The practice continues until 1927.



Formation of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.


The Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario is formed


Early women teachers’ associations band together to form the Federation of Women Teachers of Ontario.

rural one-room school

One-room schoolhouses were common in rural Ontario.


The Ontario legislature passes the Teachers’ Superannuation Act to provide teachers with pensions. There are 14,000 members in the plan, who need 40 years of service to get an unreduced pension based on their best 15 years’ earnings. The maximum pension is $1,000 per year, but the average is closer to $250.


A group of eight women form the Lady Teachers’ Association of Toronto, soon followed by women teachers in London, Galt and Ottawa.


The first recorded teachers’ protective association – the Teachers’ Protective Association/Organization – is founded in Perth County.


Women make up the majority of public school teachers in Ontario, thanks to their low wages, which allow school boards to hire two women teachers for the same salary as one man.


Rules for teachers in 1872:

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys and trim wicks.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.
3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual tastes of the pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening per week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to Church regularly.
5. After ten hours in school, the teachers should spend their time reading the Bible or other good books.
6. Women teachers who marry or engage in uncomely conduct will be dismissed.
7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barbershop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intentions, integrity and honesty.

The teacher who performs his labours faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of 25 cents per week in his pay providing the Board of Education approves.


Average salaries for teachers range from $260 to $597 for men, $187 to $231 for women.


Only one in five public school teachers is a woman.


The Common School Act becomes the foundation of formal public education in Ontario. It establishes a series of local school districts responsible for hiring teachers and administering funds collected through local taxes and provincial grants.

Egerton Ryerson

Egerton Ryerson


Egerton Ryerson, considered the father of public education in Ontario, is appointed Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada.

Photo credits: Archives of Ontario, Clara Thomas Archives, York University, CP Images, ETFO, FWTAO, Ontario Federation of Labour, OPSTF, Sesquicentennial Museum and Archives, Toronto District School Board. Many of the entries in this chronology are from “It’s Elementary: A brief history of Ontario’s public elementary teachers and their federations,” published by ETFO.