Developmental service workers in Eastern Ontario demand fair deal after 21 months without a contract

Developmental service work is meaningful and essential – but it can also be dangerous. Guidelines ensuring adequate staffing ratios and proper safety plans are meant to mitigate that risk, but frontline developmental service workers with Community Living Upper Ottawa Valley, CLUOV, in Eastern Ontario say those protections are being routinely ignored.

In the face of those challenges and more than 21 months into bargaining, CUPE 5088 delivered a petition signed by roughly 70% of members calling for a fair deal that keeps workers safe and improves services.

“There’s a level of risk involved in our jobs. We all knew that coming into the field. But we expect our employer to take our health and safety seriously and to do everything in their power to protect us as we support adults with developmental disabilities,” explains one member who wished to remain anonymous to protect their working conditions. “But that’s not happening at the agency. Our safety is routinely compromised as management cuts corners.”

CLUOV has seen an exodus of staff in recent years with workers taking jobs at better paying agencies or leaving the field entirely, chased out by burnout, stress, and low pay. Those who remain have been forced to work short staffed, often in one-on-one situations that would typically require two or three staff to adequately and safely manage a client with behavioral challenges.

Management decisions have not only depressed wages and impacted worker safety, they’re undercutting the quality of care clients receive. The revolving door of staff means that clients who struggle with change are being forced to adjust to new workers constantly while programs and outings are being cancelled because there aren’t enough staff to facilitate them. The result is that adults with developmental disabilities who should be out in the community and socializing with people they know and trust are spending more time alone, inside, cut off from their world.

The roughly 140 members of CUPE 5088 have been working without a contract for nearly two years. Their bargaining representatives entered into negotiations with proposals focused on improving recruitment and retention, elevating the quality of care clients receive, and ensuring workers are safe. Instead of offering a fair deal at a time of skyrocketing cost of living, though, management is proposing a stipend that would put workers further behind inflation while also attempting to add steps to the wage grid that would keep workers lower paid for longer.

CUPE 5088 members are hopeful to reach a fair deal when their bargaining representatives return to the table in the coming weeks.