Building on the momentum of the recommendations of the 1970 Royal Commission on the Status of Women, The Ontario Equal Pay Coalition was organized in Toronto in 1976 when Laurell Ritchie, a representative of the Canadian Textile and Chemical Workers’ Union, invited women she knew to be feminists and active in women’s organizations or trade unions to her home to discuss organizing for equal pay for work of equal value in Ontario. One of those women was Mary Cornish, later to be named to the Order of Canada for a lifetime of advocacy for pay equity; another was Frances Lankin, who would become a cabinet minister in Ontario’s first New Democratic Party.
Ten years of lobbying, public speaking and advocacy in their respective organizations, resulted the country’s first legislation in 1987 to provide equal pay for work of equal value—termed by the government as “Pay Equity” legislation. Using gender-bias-free job evaluation to compare the value of jobs historically predominated by women to those predominated by men, the Coalition through the years has advocated for amendments to the legislation to ensure protection to women working in establishments with all-female jobs. Cornish has chaired the Coalition for most of its lifetime and has successfully litigated pay equity settlements throughout Canada.
The Ontario Equal Pay Coalition played a major role in the milestones towards achieving and implementing pay equity. Over the years, the Coalition has met with a succession of Ontario governments calling for action on many fronts to bring economic equality to women in all their diverse circumstances. These include strong enforcement of the Pay Equity Act, access to affordable child care, increases to the minimum wage, and reinstatement of Ontario’s Employment Equity Act.