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Thousands of CUPE members working for community living agencies (ACLs) are celebrating Developmental Service Workers Appreciation Day today as their local unions begin contract negotiations.

When it comes to community living, our members truly do make it possible,” said CUPE Ontario President Sid Ryan.  “They are on the frontline, providing the services and supports that assist persons with a developmentally disability – and their families – to participate fully in our communities.

ACL workers help to make our communities inclusive.”

Yet workers continue to face many challenges themselves, said Jim Beattie, chair of the CUPE Ontario ACL Bargaining Committee.  Legislation passed by the Ontario legislature last year puts a new emphasis on direct funding to families that threatens to undermine the existing community agency infrastructure while doing little to reduce waiting lists where hundreds of individuals and families are consigned until supports become available.

While the Ontario government committed four years of increased funding to help address low wages in the sector, recruitment and retention of staff continue to be problems.

Our message to the province is simple,” Beattie said.  “Continue investment aimed at strengthening supports and services rather than shifting the burden of being an employer onto families who are, in many cases, already overwhelmed with the care of their children with disabilities.   A system of community-based, not-for-profit agencies with workers who are fairly paid brings real support and stability for people with disabilities.

Fifty CUPE bargaining units are beginning negotiations with an expectation that we will be able to work with our employers to build on the progress we have made toward addressing the serious issues facing the sector and making our services stronger.”