The price of labour peace with educators could hit an estimated $7 billion, Education Minister Stephen Lecce says.
Demands by Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) members — who are conducting their second, one-day strike Wednesday — would cost $1.6 billion over the life of a three-year contract, the provincial government projects.
If spread across all provincial education workers, the cost would hit almost $3 billion in the third year of contracts and the total cost of all contracts could be in the ballpark of $7 billion, the government estimates.
Education contracts have “me too” language that entitle them to improvements negotiated by fellow teacher unions.
The government believes it is in taxpayers’ interest to release these figures, said Lecce Tuesday afternoon.
“This isn’t a game, these are our kids, they should be in class tomorrow,” the minister said. “My hope is this information provides greater specificity of the impacts to the taxpayers of this province, and what they’re actually asking the government, the people who pay the bills, the taxpayers of this province, to pay.”
Harvey Bischof, OSSTF president, said he is negotiating of behalf of his members, not all education workers, suggesting the government’s provincewide numbers didn’t add up.
One of the union’s demands, a cost-of-living increase for its members, would be about $200 million in the first year, he said.
“My members, including my $38,000-a-year support staff, almost entirely women, deserve to make this year what they made last year,” Bischof said. “And (Lecce) believes that those positions are shameful.”
Bischof said the average teacher makes $86,000 a year, not the $92,000 figure used by the government.
Most of the demands would just keep the “status quo” while the government’s office means larger class sizes and mandatory e-learning credits, he said.
According to the government, the OSSTF requested wage and benefit hikes would cost $99.1 million in 2019-20, $195.3 million in 2020-21 and $293.9 million in 2021-22.
If the same compensation increase was offered to all education workers, the additional costs would be $515.1 million this year, just over $1 billion next year and more than $1.5 billion in the third year of the contract, the government says.
Other OSSTF requests such as status quo classroom sizes, preparation time for early childhood educators, a WSIB top up, improved parental leave and about $5,000 per employee to pay for local bargaining that could go to more salary, teachers or hours would put the annual cost of the OSSTF contract at more than $700 million in the third year of contract, the government says.
The government acknowledged that the numbers are not carved in stone but represent a best estimate.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Lecce is trying to ratchet up the numbers and the fear factor for families.
“This whole issue of Mr. Lecce’s moving numbers is meant to confuse and to worry people, it’s meant to bring into the discussion the nuclear option,” Horwath said.
Lecce announced Tuesday that his government has reached a tentative agreement with the Educational Workers’ Alliance of Ontario (EWAO), which he said is evidence that his government is being reasonable at the bargaining table.