OSSTF/FEESO’s motto “Let us not take thought for our separate interests, but let us help one another” guided the journey to obtain a provincial benefits plan designed to meet the needs of members today and as they progress through their careers. While that journey was tedious at times, and did not always unfold smoothly, the ultimate goal of ensuring members had the best possible benefits plan that was comprehensive, affordable and sustainable did not wane.
Benefits are an important part of members’ compensation packages and through each round of bargaining, it has been a priority for OSSTF to protect and enhance benefits, despite funding and inflationary pressures. As it became apparent that a province-wide benefits plan could be advantageous for members and their families, OSSTF commissioned a comprehensive study of benefit plan design and usage of all OSSTF/FEESO bargaining units in the elementary and secondary school sector. Included in the study, was a survey of members that revealed members overwhelmingly saw benefits as a valuable part of compensation, and that they were willing to accept gives and takes to ensure meaningful coverage.
A set of guiding principles to steer the development of a province-wide benefits plan was also created. The main principles were:
In 2013 and 2016, member advisory work groups that advised the OSSTF Provincial Executive on the provincial benefits plan investigation and design were also created.
At the June 3, 2016 OSSTF Provincial Council meeting, Provincial Councillors approved the OSSTF Provincial Benefit Plan design for a province-wide benefits program for school board employed members.
Consolidating widely ranging benefit arrangements into a single province-wide plan was no easy task. It involved the combined efforts of OSSTF, the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA), the Crown, OTIP and many other external benefits experts.
The Central Table Agreements ratified in August and November 2015 for OSSTF school board employed teachers and support staff initiated the establishment of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation Employee Life and Health Trust (OSSTF ELHT) which now oversees and operates OSSTF Benefits. Eligible active members began transitioning into the OSSTF Benefits Plan on November 1, 2016, with enrollment being completed in five waves by June 1, 2017. Newly eligible bargaining units have joined the OSSTF Benefits Plan since June 1, 2017
The Board of Trustees assumed responsibility for the operation of the ELHT in October, 2016, just prior to when the first group of members began transitioning into the provincial plan. The Executive Director and Trustees were hired and appointed to the Board because they have expertise in a variety of areas including benefits, finance, governance and investments. The Trustees understand the profound responsibility they have to operate the Trust and administer the plan in the best interests of members. Since the inception of the Trust, Board members have effectively worked together with the Executive Director to establish rigorous policies and procedures as well as good governance practices to ensure the plan’s effective operation.
Transitioning approximately 45,000 members participating in dozens of separate plans into one provincial plan was challenging and at times frustrating. It was only possible with the patience, cooperation and understanding of all parties involved, especially plan members. Many lessons were learned, many challenges were overcome and new processes were implemented. The main priorities of the Trustees now are ensuring that members can continue to smoothly access benefits for themselves and their families and establishing more regular and direct communication with plan members.