Faced with years of understaffing, developmental service workers at Community Living Algoma in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario have been stretching themselves thin to make sure that adults with disabilities receive the care and support they need. But with an employer that refuses to hire sufficient staff, relying instead on forced overtime and denied vacation requests, the 250 workers are facing burnout and are drawing a line in the sand.
On December 19, they delivered a petition signed by 70 percent of the staff calling on the board of Community Living Algoma to intervene with management, to stop the practice of forced overtime. Their union, CUPE Local 1880, said that in recent months nearly three-quarters of the workers have been forced to work past the end of their shift, with some having to work forced overtime several times a week for up to 16 hours.
“We go in for a ten-hour workday but if there’s no one there to relieve us, we can’t just go home, we’re responsible for the safety of the people in our care. So, we stay,” said one CUPE member. “Management has created a staffing shortage that makes us sacrifice our lives and well-being.”
The union and employer have been in contract negotiations since September but remain apart on key issues. CUPE says that management has “categorically refused to implement any new language around forced overtime” and is also unwilling to provide a decent wage increase. The union has noted that Community Living Algoma’s executive director John Policicchio gave himself a 23.5 percent raise in recent years.
In addition to calling on the board of directors to halt forced overtime, the workers’ petition also asks that the board intervene to help reach a fair contract.
According to the union, overtime problem started several years ago as the agency began closing group homes and shifting people in their care to smaller apartments and houses in the community. “This was an admirable change in focus that provided adults with disabilities more autonomy,” said a CUPE press release. “But workers are now responsible for round the clock support at roughly 30 locations and the shift in model did not come with an investment in staff. Instead of hiring enough workers to cover the locations, the agency has burned existing staff out and denied vacation requests to ensure adequate coverage.
“No one should go into work not knowing when they’ll be able to go home.”
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