Labour unrest must be infuriating for new teachers

Unions demand too much in era of high unemployment


Photo by Caelie_Frampton on Flickr

How terribly drôle it must be for recent education graduates with a seat to the teacher contract disputes in Ontario and British Columbia.

In the province of Ontario, the teacher’s federation is busy expressing its “insult” at the latest government contract proposal to freeze their wages, which top out at around $95,000.

Meanwhile, as many as two-thirds of education grads in the province are under- or unemployed.

The circumstances in B.C. are different; their pay is lower, maxing out at about $75,000.

Still, I suspect that teachers walking off their jobs with demands for a 15 per cent wage increase may rouse at least some contempt among those who dream, while folding clothes at the local mall, of getting a teaching job—any teaching job.

As with any contentious negotiations, the unions are working to get public opinion on their sides.

But winning over those who are raring to get into the field may prove difficult, considering the disconnect between young people’s economic realities and the teachers’ unreal demands.

Just look at Ontario. The McGuinty government asked teachers last week to “do their part” to rein in spending by accepting a two-year wage freeze and reduction to sick day benefits. These suggestions were deemed nothing short of “insulting” by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation.

The proposed two-year wage freeze—which would help the province preserve the many positions it created with the introduction of full-day kindergarten—would follow a 34 per cent wage increase over the past eight years, wherein the average teacher’s salary rose to $83,500.

Ask many private sector employees and taxpayers who have struggled during recent times of economic downturn, and they might, indeed, call that level of compensation “insulting.”

But the even more contentious issue seems to be that of sick day leave. Ontario teachers get 20 paid days per years. If they don’t take them, they can bank up to 200 of those days and cash them out at 50 per cent of their salary at retirement, amounting to a maximum of $46,000.

New teachers in Ontario start at around $41,000 to $44,000, depending on the board.

Interesting, then, that under the current sick-day system, the retirement-time perk adds up to roughly the cost of a full-time new position (minus the cost of substitutes). No wonder new grads are having a hard time finding jobs; their would-be salaries are paid out to retirees who managed to stay healthy!

The province has suggested reducing the number of paid annual sick days to six and eliminating the ability to bank unused days, while protecting days already accumulated by current teachers.

The proposal, unsurprisingly, has been scoffed at by the teacher’s federation.

Prospective teachers, in the meantime, are left to twiddle their thumbs through the strikes and negotiations, while union bosses play politics and gasp at perceived injustices.

Thus, teachers looking for sympathy shouldn’t look too far beyond their own ranks. There are plenty of qualified young people who would happily take their jobs, if only they got the chance.


Labour unrest must be infuriating for new teachers

  1. Robyn: You seem to agree that teachers should ‘do their part’. Fair enough. But, dare I ask, what are you doing?

    • Lisa: What a silly comment. Is Robyn’s salary being paid by the Ontario tax payer?

  2. Last time I checked, Rob, teachers pay taxes, too. Regarding the deficit, here’s an equitable solution: raise taxes for everyone. This way, we all do our part.

  3. Your claim: “the average teacher’s salary rose to $83,500” – Do you have a legitimate source to back this claim up? If so, why didn’t you cite it in your article?

  4. I can tell you one thing is that I did not get a 34% increase in pay in the last 8 years and I will not get a year off with pay at the end of my career.

    The governments have bought their way out of a recession and now the repercussions of that effort are upon us. Government debt!

    Raising taxes hurts this effort from an economics point of view and from a tax payer view, no more taxes! There should be no reason that the teachers could not give up a little. Especially a perk that allows them to retire a year early with full pay! Come up with any other profession or group that gets a year of pay for doing nothing except not taking days off?

    I am not completely heartless; the government should not expect the teachers to give a very good perk that they had negotiated in good faith. The reward for not taking sick days for the sake of taking them should be to have them paid out at a rate of a 1/4 day per day upon retirement.

    • I retired from teaching in June 2011 and my retirement gratuity for banked sick days was … um $0. Many school board eliminated this years ago @1990 in the case of my school board. I don’t know where, or how the author of this article arrived at the 34% salary increase over the past 8 years. On average, teachers in Ontario have had 2% (maybe slightly more, more slightly less) increases since the days of Bob Rae’s Social Contract, where we went for 6 years with frozen salaries.

      Please, get your facts straight. (Oh, sorry, I forgot, this is the modern media where facts don’t matter.)

    • YES!! A voice of reason!

  5. Craig, numbers were crunched in a very unofficial way and would not come close to the 1.4B stated.
    Secondly, it is in the constitution and I want my Catholic school system!
    A constitutional amendment is not a simple matter and one that would not be easily done.

    The first line of the constitution:

    “Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of ‘God’ and the rule of law:”

    As you can see we as a country believe in God and he should not be taken out of our schools!

    Only after that do we list our fundamental rights.

    • Why shouldn’t we have taxpayer-funded Muslim schools or Hindu schools or Spaghetti Monster schools?. Why just Catholic? Times change, so do Constitutions. Students can learn their religions in their churches, mosques, temples, homes, etc. Public and Catholic systems should be amalgamated. They did it in Newfoundland and Quebec, so why can’t we do it in Ontario?

  6. As a teacher, I find this entire “article” extremely bias and misleading. You clearly don’t know all the facts and paint teachers out to be greedy and (in your own words) “insulting”.
    It is extremely unfortunate that the government decided to use such harsh tactics (A youtube video? Really?) to start negotiations with the teachers union. It seems like the media is just jumping on the bandwagon. I hope the public doesn’t follow suit.

  7. There are other ways to save money then go after teachers and education. Does anyone even care that the government spends 50-100 million dollars on standardized tests every year? Of course not!

  8. I actually do believe Anna, that there are many ways to save money within the educational system.

    I am not sure the article is biased so much as one sided. I am not certain the $ numbers are accurate from what I have researched by they are close.

    My concern would be that many if not all public sector employees across the country are getting “zero” increases. Is it not fair to ask BC and Ontario teachers to do the same for a short while?

    As to the other aspects I have only read the one with regard to sick days. I am a government employee and do not get the generous end of career payout. I also do not know the history of why this was negotiated. What I do believe is that it should not be dismissed and taken away out of hand but as previously stated there should be some benefit received at the end of your career and that should be in the form of a partial payout.

    If I do not use all of my sick days I do not get a full pay out of days remaining. At the same time if I were in your shoes I may be tempted to take more sick days if I were to get nothing in return for my dedication and not taking sick days for every little sneeze. If over my career I accumulate a total of 200 days then I would feel that my dedication was worth some sort of remuneration.

  9. Anna, you’re a teacher and yet you can’t write correct English?
    The word is “biased”. And it’s “to save money THAN go after teachers”.
    Seriously, you want to get paid how much to teach when you can’t even write?

  10. I am also a teacher – a new teacher in fact, that has been working long term occasional contract positions for the last three years. Yes, I would love a full time permanent position and yes, I am terrified about a possible strike. However, I find this article incredibley biased. Not sure where the media got their information, but the majority of Ontario teachers cannot bank their sick days for a retirement pay-out – this benefit was scrapped decades ago in most boards. You are making it sound like all Ontario teachers have this benefit. Check your facts before posting an article.

  11. Everyone forgets that we need Education,for everything we do, maybe next time we should look at other jobs that are banking money that do not help society. In my opinion, teachers encourage and inspire their pupils to go on and get a career or a degree. If teachers do not have enough money to pay their own bills then, how are we suppose to inspire the next generation?

    And regarding sick days. . . If you,send your kids to school when they are sick (because you don’t want to get a nanny) then the teachers get sick.

  12. Robyn,
    Sounds like you need to go back to Math class. Where are you coming up with these figures: “would follow a 34 per cent wage increase over the past eight years, wherein the average teacher’s salary rose to $83,500.” Nobody’s wages rose that much except for Bay Street tycoons! Teacher wages increase as they gain more experience or after they have successfully completed additional education (that they pay for and can’t write off like some in private industry).

    One reason that education in Ontario is so expensive is because we have 4–count them 4–separate educational systems: the English Public System, the French Public System, the English Catholic System, and the French Catholic System. Four complete sets of administration, employees, trustees, schools, etc. If McGuinty (a Catholic whose wife works for the Catholic board) was honest (he told Drummond that he couldn’t mention the Catholic boards in his report), he would follow the example of Newfoundland and Quebec, and amalgamate all these systems into one or two (English and French). Teachers are an easy target because everyone thinks they know something about education, but let’s start trimming the fat from the school board administration, closing under-utilized schools, and getting rid of the Catholic boards before we start kicking teachers.

  13. Regarding sick days, these are a benefit that allows one to take time off when ill without losing pay. I don’t understand the logic of treating them like vacation days. If you are sick, you take your sick time. To be able to bank them encourages people to come to work when unwell, which surely is not good for either themselves or anyone else. Banking to a more limited total might be useful, to allow for extended (but not LTD) cases. It’s interesting to see posters proposing that the banked time is a reward for “dedication” and so we should allow teachers to take extended paid vacations late in their careers. Since presumably not all teachers are equally dedicated, perhaps there should be some kind of evaluation process to see who should get this perk, and who not. Also, to the person who suggested that teachers can’t write off the cost of further education, don’t they get a T-2202A that gives a deduction for full and part time study? And really, teachers don’t have enough money to pay their own bills? Seriously?

  14. As the husband of a teacher, my wife is one of the hardest working people I know… This full frontal attack is very discouraging
    – Kindergarten teacher
    – Took on debt to obtain a masters degree
    – Spent 4 years in ‘limbo’ before getting a full-time job
    – At school 9 hours a day
    – Spends avg 2 hrs a night on prep
    – Contributes $1500-$2000 yearly of her own $$ on classroom supplies (not reimbursed)
    – Has THIRTY 3 & 4 yr olds to deal with everyday (how would you deal with that???)
    – Contributes $11000 A YEAR to her manditory pension
    – Goes to work on days when she doesn’t feel up to it… the rest of us would take a sick day (saving the province money and kids disruption)
    – Very dissapointed with the perception teachers have it ‘easy’ and lack of public support
    – There is one thing teachers absolutely deserve more of… respect

    • “As the husband of a teacher, my wife is one of the hardest working people I know… This full frontal attack is very discouraging”

      Better get used to it pal. Teachers like your wife show no interest whatsoever in getting their compensation in line with the private sector. The more unreasonable teachers become, the worse it’s gonna get.

      “- Kindergarten teacher”
      “- Took on debt to obtain a masters degree”

      I took on debt to get a master’s degree too, what is your point? So did thousands of others in the private sector. Unlike your wife however, we in the private sector don’t get automatic wage increases just because we get a master’s degree… we have to show our employers that the degree is going to positively impact their bottom lines. If the degree doesn’t benefit the employer, it’s not going to translate to extra cash for the employee, plain and simple.

      “- Spent 4 years in ‘limbo’ before getting a full-time job”

      What your really mean is your wife spent four years (assuming you’re being truthful on the 4 years) getting experience supply teaching and picking up “long-term occasional” contracts before getting a full-time job. So what? She was getting paid wasn’t she? At least she was getting paid to do something… many fresh graduates are required to do non-paid volunteer work before they are considered for private secor jobs, and those jobs often have no benefits whatsoever, and are often contract positions.

      “- At school 9 hours a day”

      Based on the time the parking lots fill and empty at the local high schools where I live, I think this is a load of crap. Assuming it is true, I spend a MINIMUM of 9 hours a day at the office. So again, what is your point? That your wife is actually showing up for work? Well golly gee-whiz, I guess we should all be thankful for THAT!

      “- Spends avg 2 hrs a night on prep”

      I spend an average of two hours per night doing work for my employer. I also work weekends when I am required to do so, all with no extra compensation. Welcome to the reality of private sector employment pal.

      “- Contributes $1500-$2000 yearly of her own $$ on classroom supplies (not reimbursed)”

      I know teachers and I don’t doubt they put a little of their own cash into the kitty for odds and ends, but $1500 – $2000 per year? Sorry pal, I don’t buy it.

      “- Has THIRTY 3 & 4 yr olds to deal with everyday (how would you deal with that???)”

      How does she deal with that? She uses her taxpayer-funded teaching degree combined with experience to deal with it, that’s how! I have to deal with many more adults than that on a daily basis, and let me tell you most of those adults act like kids anyway. Get real!

      “- Contributes $11000 A YEAR to her manditory pension”

      Yes, and I and other taxpayers contribute another $11,000 to match your wife’s contribution. Me? I have nothing other than what I can scrape together in an RRSP, and it’s not going to be much. Your wife has a gold-plated defined benefit pension guaranteed for life and indexed to inflation. Whatever retirement savings I manage to put aside are completely at the mercy of the financial markets. Give me a freakin break pal.

      “- Goes to work on days when she doesn’t feel up to it… the rest of us would take a sick day (saving the province money and kids disruption)”

      Oh spare me this crap. I am sitting in front of my computer at work, on a half-hour lunch break, typing this right now with the flu. If I don’t show up to work, I don’t have any “sick days” to tap into like your wife does, and I run the real risk of losing my job. Your wife has the closest thing to a graranteed job as it gets in this province.

      “- Very dissapointed with the perception teachers have it ‘easy’ and lack of public support”

      You think it’s bad now? Just wait until the private sector stops producing tax dollars to pay your wife. It’s closer to happening than you think. The world is hitting the debt wall, and soon countries will no longer be able to borrow to finance their ridiculous public sector burden.

      “- There is one thing teachers absolutely deserve more of… respect”

      You know the old saying, or perhaps you don’t since you’re married to a teacher: “Respect is earned”. Teachers are not going to earn much respect from the private sector until they get their heads out of the sand.

      • Well said. Also note, anyone being able to contribute $11,000 year to a pension
        plan is doing very well financially. Teachers really need a dose of reality. Anyone notice how
        teachers never threaten strike action in July or August?

      • Yes, teachers get the most generous share of public funds. Fire them all! Don’t touch certain healthcare salaries, though. Or subsidies for certain industries. Or legislation that grants some professions the privilege of restricting the number of practitioners, with the sad, unintended consequence of maintaining higher salaries for members. And leave the bailouts alone. Teachers are the worst culprits. Go after them!

  15. Let’s face it, we are addressing the symptoms and not the cause– governments bailed out wealthy executives, without any jobs to justify our tax bailouts. Perhaps it is time to cut the fat and dispose of the three levels of government.

  16. Oh, the hate on teachers. Interesting how it’s always a case of “my neighbor makes more than me – they shouldn’t!” instead of “why have I had to do with less while those at the very top get wealthier?”

    The race to the bottom continues apace.

  17. Sword of Damoclese [sic]: Considering the amount of bitching in your long-winded post, it sounds like your job is really hard and you don’t like it. Why not try for something better?

    Do we all have to do with less because your life sucks, which is essentially the crux of your ‘argument’? What a horribly myopic view.

    • Very well said. If teachers have it so good, why don’t you all go back to school and join us? It won’t take long if you already have a degree… then you too can have this ‘easy’ job with all the ‘free vacation’ time.

  18. Your post is riddled with inaccuracies, especially regarding Ontario teachers’ salaries and retirement gratuities. If you’re going to use data to back up your position, then you need to provide sources.

    P.S. @Tony: I’ll ignore the fact that you’re using a B.C. document to prove a point about Ontario teachers, but I won’t ignore that those tables in pages 17 and 18 state average MAXIMUM salaries, not average salaries. And yes, I do expect the author to adequately back up her assertions on her own, without assistance from her readers.

  19. To all the teacher bashers, would you feel better if the teachers were paid baby-sitter wages, 4 dollars per hour per child x 30 kids……