Vivian McCaffrey began her career as the Government Relations staff member for the Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation (OPSTF), then men elementary teachers’ union, in 1981. She became a staff member of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) at its formation in 1998 and worked there until her retirement in 2013. She describes the OPSTF, at that point, as paternalistic; affirmative action programs were misunderstood and pay equity was a problem.
During her interview she reflects on the relationship between the OPSTF and the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO) from her perspective as one of the few women staff members working for the men’s union. There were, she states, “gender tensions” between the two unions. She holds a positive view of the amalgamation of the FWTAO and the OPSTF in 1998. The new union was the largest of the teachers’ unions and was able to take advantage of its size to engage in anti-racist, LGBQIA2S+, and sexual identity campaigns, something the teachers continue to pursue. Vivian notes that teachers’ involvement in social issues was advanced when the ETFO joining the OFL shortly after amalgamation.
Particularly important to Vivian was the building of teacher solidarity during the Mike Harris years. “Building member solidarity was key to our success,” she states. She saw how the union carried that lesson forward.
Covering Bill Davis’ full funding of the Roman Catholic separate school system in 1985 to Dalton McGuinty’s unconstitutional Bill 115 and the Liberals’ move to austerity in 2012, Vivian gives us an incisive insider’s view of the inner workings of the elementary teachers’ union responding to the issues of the day.
Interviewed by Andy Hanson and Harry Smaller.