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Ford should follow BC’s example if the union continues to refuse to accept a reasonable offer

Jay GoldbergOntario taxpayers need to know some important numbers as CUPE squares off with the government over wages.

  • Their province is facing a fiscal reckoning.
  • Their province is $469 billion in debt.
  • Their province is the most-indebted sub-national government in the world.
  • Their province is spending over $1 billion per month on debt interest payments, which are set to soar in the years ahead.

That’s the situation the province now finds itself in.

Enter CUPE.

The province’s union bosses have decided to hold the province hostage.

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The Ford government offered CUPE workers a raise. The union bosses rejected the province’s offer and continue to mislead Ontarians to get their way.

First, CUPE insists that the Ford government has cut the education budget. That claim is patently false.

When Ford was first elected in 2018, Ontario was spending $29 billion on education. This year, the province intends to spend $32 billion.

An extra $3 billion in spending is a far cry from a cut.

Second, union bosses want Ontarians to believe that the average CUPE worker makes $39,000 a year. That rhetoric doesn’t tell the whole story.

Most of their workers work part-time and schools are closed over three months a year, so it makes sense to look at hourly wages, not annual wages.

It turns out that the lowest wage a CUPE worker can get is $20.82 per hour. That’s what a part-time cleaner is paid.

Educational assistants make significantly more. EAs working at the Ottawa Catholic School Board, for example, make between $26.71 and $28.82 per hour.

That’s in line with the average provincial private sector wage, as well as many firefighters and nurses.

Yet CUPE demanded a 35 percent wage increase over the next three years.

In the private sector, thousands of workers lost their jobs, faced pay cuts or lost hours at work during the pandemic. CUPE workers, on the other hand, were paid the entire time.

Even though those in the private sector have faced significant hardships over the past few years, no one in the real world can reasonably expect to walk into their boss’s office, demand a 35 percent wage hike and get it.

Yet that’s exactly what CUPE’s doing.

The Ford government countered CUPE’s demands for a 35 percent wage hike by offering to raise the wages of workers earning less than $43,000 a year by 2.5 percent annually and those earning more than $43,000 by 1.5 percent annually.

But CUPE said no, and refused to offer a counterproposal that was even within the realm of reasonable.

If CUPE continues to refuse to accept a reasonable offer and threatens to walk off the job again, Ford should take a new approach.

When teachers went on strike in B.C., former B.C. premier Christy Clark provided parents $40 a day while kids were out of school. With schools closed due to a strike, it was right to give taxpayers their money back. And that vital help ensured parents weren’t entirely at the mercy of union bosses.

Sure enough, the union came back to the negotiating table.

The deal Ford gives to CUPE this time around will influence agreements negotiated with other union groups in the future.

Ford should tread lightly and make sure that any deal he agrees to is affordable and doesn’t take a wrecking ball to the state of Ontario’s finances.

Jay Goldberg is the Ontario & Interim Atlantic Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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