As OSSTF/FEESO approaches our 100th anniversary, we continue to be guided by our motto, “Let us not take thought for our separate interests, but let us help one another.” At the same time, we are also a union that has augmented our principles of solidarity with a commitment to equity.
Equity and social justice work is not new to OSSTF/FEESO’s history. This important focus has been rooted in our work since the birth of our Federation. In 1920, when women were earning 10 to 50 per cent less than men with the same credentials, a delegate at the first annual meeting introduced a motion to shake things up. Jesse Muir proposed that “the principle of equal pay for equal work be formally adopted into the general policy of this Federation.” Her motion passed, unanimously.
A lot has changed since the 1920s, but not the Federation’s commitment to equity. This is evident in our Federation’s Equity Statement, which sets out in the opening paragraph:
“OSSTF/FEESO is a democratic union that recognizes the importance of encouraging and supporting involvement by all members, while recognizing that some members have historically been marginalized. For the Federation to be at its best, all members must see themselves reflected in its goals, structures, and practices.”
Delegates at the Annual Meeting of the Provincial Assembly (AMPA) 2014 voted, as part of the Annual Action Plan, to create a Member Participation Survey, modelled on the Equity Survey conducted in 2010–2011, to determine the levels of participation in Federation activities by members of equity-seeking groups. Equity-seeking groups within OSSTF/FEESO include women, members of colour (racialized members), First Nations, Métis and Inuit members (FNMI), LGBTQ2SI members, and members with disabilities. There is also a special consideration for francophone members.
This Member Participation Survey, which was concluded in 2016, was designed to help OSSTF/FEESO continue to reduce barriers for equity-seeking groups while evaluating and improving efforts to engage all members in the activities of the Federation. The data collected has guided further initiatives to promote equity and inclusion in Federation functions. In undertaking this work, OSSTF/FEESO utilized a process that is already well established across the broader labour movement, amongst our employers, and within the education system.
Based on the results of this survey conducted by The Vector Poll, 70 per cent of our members self-identified as women, racialized persons, FNMI, LGBTQ2SI, or persons with a disability. Compared with the original survey, the key findings shows that with some notable improvements, inequities, bias, and discrimination continue to exist within the Federation. Data also showed that members of equity-seeking groups are more involved than previously. However, some groups are still less likely to hold formal Federation roles in some of the highest governing bodies of OSSTF/FEESO. Data also showed that our members have an increased level of concern or empathy for the discrimination faced by members of equity-seeking groups. Although there appeared to be a reduction in the need for new initiatives to combat discrimination from the general membership, there was strong support for mandatory equity training. Finally, this survey showed that fewer members feel unwelcome at Federation events. Still, it is important to note that some members continue to face identifiable barriers to their participation.
The representation of equity-seeking groups at AMPA appeared to better align with the percentages within the general membership. However, the closer a Federation body is to the centre of decision-making, the less likely that body is to include members of equity-seeking groups. Overall, 16 per cent of all members have held official roles in the Federation at the branch/worksite, Bargaining Unit, District or provincial level in the previous three years. The survey shows that most equity-seeking groups are close to meeting or exceeding this participation level. Members of equity-seeking groups are most likely to hold branch or Bargaining Unit roles. Only six per cent of members under 30, and 18 per cent of members 50 and older, hold official roles.
Members of equity-seeking groups make up the majority of those who were surveyed in the 2015–2016 Member Participation Survey. Yet, what we also know is that these same members aren’t represented in leadership roles within the Federation. Simply said, the face of our Federation does not match the membership. Members of equity-seeking groups—and in particular, those with intersectional identities—have yet to be fully represented in leadership roles within the Federation.
In response to the findings of the 2015–2016 survey, AMPA 2016 approved the development of a formal, intensive mentorship program designed to support members from equity-seeking groups who wish to increase their involvement in Federation leadership. Our own OSSTF/FEESO Equity Statement tasks the organization with addressing systemic barriers so that all members can see themselves reflected in our policies, practices, and priorities.
In the fall of 2018, the inaugural group of the OSSTF/FEESO Equity Mentorship Program, consisting of fifteen mentees and eight mentors from across the province, gathered in Toronto at OSSTF/FEESO Provincial Office to begin their mentorship journey together. Program participants received coaching and guidance from their mentors, heard directly from provincial and local elected leaders about their experiences, and participated in skills-building workshops provided by provincial office staff. As OSSTF/FEESO looks ahead in shaping our union over the next 100 years, this three-year pilot leadership program is another example of a logical next step in the Federation’s commitment to our ongoing equity work.
Addressing barriers to leadership opportunities by developing the necessary knowledge and understanding is an essential goal for OSSTF/FEESO as we strive to create a union that reflects the make-up of our membership. Barriers to leadership can be systemic and/or attitudinal. Making this long term, mutually-beneficial investment in our equity-seeking members through leadership development is an important and essential step for our Federation. We have always dedicated significant resources to the inclusion of more members in OSSTF/FEESO. It is important to ensure that the valuable insights and lived experiences of members of all equity-seeking groups are included and supported.