Challenges Facing the Workers' Movement

Workers' Pension Funds Must Not Be Used to Finance Union-Busting

– Empower Yourself Now –

OSSTF provincial council rises in support of Windsor Salt workers, June 2, 2023

On August 20, 2023, the Ontario Teachers' Federation (OTF) will meet for its summer Board of Governors' meeting in Toronto. A major issue of concern that will come up at the August meeting is the significant investments of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) in Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc. (SCIH), directly, and through one of its subsidiaries, SCI Salt, which is engaged in union-busting at Windsor Salt in Windsor, Ontario.

The OTF is a body made up of 40 representatives of all the teachers' federations in Ontario. These include: L'association des enseignates et des enseignantes franco-Ontariens (AEFO), the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) as well as the Retired Teachers of Ontario (RTO).

The OTF is established in Ontario law and, in 1991, formed a partnership with the Ontario government to oversee the OTPP. This took place at a time the Ontario government was restructuring the state to abdicate its responsibility for the pensions of Ontario's teachers, which up until 1989 it had sole control and responsibility for. As a result of this partnership, in return for the government giving up its sole responsibility for the plan, the OTF gained a certain amount of control over it in the form of selecting members of its board.[1]

For some time, and with increasing firmness, shareholders of the OTPP, including the presidents of all the teachers' federations, have called on the OTPP to use its investments in Stone Canyon to contribute to stopping attacks on Canadian salt workers and the critical resources they mine and process. The pension plan's CEO responded to the concerns being raised first by claiming that the OTPP did not interfere in the day-to-day operations of companies it was invested in and did not have a controlling stake in. This response was not accepted by teachers who noted that the OTPP has a seat on Stone Canyon's Board of Managers, making it directly implicated in the company's activities. Furthermore, it was noted that the OTPP speaks incessantly about the use of its investments to try and make a positive environmental and social impact, but for some reason stopping union-busting against Canadian workers is not considered worthy of doing anything concrete.

The CEO of the pension plan then responded to the presidents of the teachers' federations who all wrote a joint letter raising their concerns about the Plan's investments. He told them the OTPP supports collective bargaining and the right to strike and was glad that the company and the workers were bargaining. In fact, the company, which the OTPP helps manage, was not bargaining anything, but was continuing to uphold its demands for union-busting through such things as attacking seniority rights, contracting out the re-start of salt production at the facilities when the strike ends, undermining the ability of the union to represent its members and compromising the health and safety of maintenance workers.[2] This was why the mine workers who were presented with these concessions in the recent tentative agreement voted No! 

A challenge facing the OTF, and its member federations, is how to assert the values of their members in not permitting their pensions to be used to finance an American holding company's attack on Canadian workers, their union and Canadian natural resources. The OTPP is a huge asset for teachers and for the people of Ontario for investments in socially responsible projects and activities. Teachers are very proud of their pension plan because it presents itself as being a responsible investor that uses its investments to make a positive environmental and social impact. However, the truth is that this is not the case at this time. It is heavily invested in a variety of anti-social activities – from the privatization of health care, elder care, education, and public infrastructure in Canada and abroad, to French nuclear weapons and, as evidenced by its investments in SCIH, the monopolization of critical natural resources and attacking the workers in these industries, and by extension, the communities in which they are based.

Finding ways to hold the OTPP executives and board to account for their investments in union-busting in Canada will make a concrete contribution to defending Canadian workers and Canada as a whole. Such a concrete contribution would be for the OTPP to make it clear to Stone Canyon that unless it gives up its union-busting demands and negotiates a contract that respects the workers' union and the standards established in over a century of salt production or sells Windsor Salt to someone that will, the OTPP will sell its investments in SCIH. It is irrational for a Canadian public pension plan to invest in such activities.

By taking a clear stand against the use of teachers' pension funds for Stone Canyon's anti-union activities, the OTF can contribute to upholding the dignity of all Canadian workers and make it clear to the Ontario government – its partner in overseeing the pension plan – that dictate will not be accepted at any level against Canadian workers. This will also permit teachers to hold their heads high as they prepare for their own battles in the new school year. They  have been without a contract in Ontario since August 31, 2022, due to the government's use of its majority to dictate changes to Ontario's education system and its refusal to pay attention to the teaachers demands and negotiate in good faith. 

This article was published in
Number 44 - August 10, 2023

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