TORONTO — Ontario's Education Minister Liz Sandals is calling $2.5 million in payouts to teachers' unions this year a "rather large investment" to get them to the bargaining table.
Sandals has defended the payments to the unions representing secondary teachers, English Catholic teachers and French teachers as being necessary because the transition to a new bargaining system made this round quite lengthy.
In 2008 and 2012 — when $1.24 million was paid to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents support workers, and the French teachers' union — there were informal discussions as a precursor to the Liberal government enacting the new bargaining process.
The ministry has said that because those discussions were voluntary it was appropriate to pay for the unions' participation — and this year it was necessary to help pay their costs to ensure a smooth transition to the new system.
Sandals also said the purpose of cutting the unions a cheque is to "support the meetings taking place."
"When you are going through a transformational process, if you want the transformation to work, the first thing to do is to get the people into the building and committed to making the process work by being there, and in this case that's been a rather large investment," she said after question period.
Under the new bargaining legislation, trustee associations are the representatives for school boards in central negotiations. A government memo shows that starting this year the government is giving them funding for bargaining.
Nearly $4.6 million will be provided to school boards this school year, the memo shows.
The education minister has not been able to detail how the union payments were calculated, beyond saying the government knows how long the parties have been bargaining in hotel rooms because it has been there too, and it knows what food costs.
"You're asking me if I have receipts and invoices; no, I don't," she said last week. "You don't need to see every bill when you're doing an estimate of costs."
But the memo shows the cost breakdown for each of the four trustee associations as:
— $204,568.44 salary for one full-time director of labour relations
— $163,972.13 for one full-time assistant director of labour relations
— For other staff, part-time equivalent, multiplied by the number of central tables and by $76,647
— For operating expenses, $63,000 multiplied by the number of central tables
— For transportation expenses, $41,000
— For legal costs, $200,000
— For meals and accommodation, 25 days at $240 per day multiplied by the number of staff, multiplied by the number of central tables
The school boards are funded by the ministry, but the government will "never ever have to fund the unions again," Sandals said.
The ministry of education refused to say how much it spent on its own negotiating costs while bargaining with other unions is ongoing.
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