Amanda Hodgkins had been working at Community Living Essex County, CLEC, near Windsor, ON, for two years when she went in for her regular 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. workday. When her shift ended, there was no one to relieve her so she was forced to stay that afternoon. And that night. And the following day. By the time she was finally able to leave 35 hours later, she’d missed her children’s soccer tournament.

That story – and dozens like it – are what is behind an open letter signed by more than 70% of CUPE 3137 members demanding an end to the practice of forced overtime.

CUPE 3137’s roughly 600 frontline developmental service workers and administrative workers have been without a contract for nearly a year. They entered bargaining with proposals to solve the agency’s long-standing workforce crisis, improve working conditions, and ensure adults with disabilities get the support they need. Their concerns, so far, have not been addressed by management.

“Our agency is down over 100 positions right now. People can leave and earn more with better hours working jobs that don’t require the same level of training or responsibility. That’s why we have part-timers working over 70 hours a week. That’s why we have workers getting stuck on shift, not being able to go home to see their families. That’s why we have homes running short staffed, putting clients and workers at risk,” said Paul Brennan, a frontline worker and CUPE 3137 President. “Our employer seems to think that new hiring practices or Facebook ads will solve this crisis. But nothing is going to change until they commit to treating workers fairly.”

Given the prevalence of forced overtime, workers now regularly bring overnight bags every time they go in, just in case. CLEC is not unique – workers in Port Colborne staged a nearly month-long strike to secure automatic overtime – but instances at the agency have been increasing at alarming rates. Family members of clients have even raised the issue, rightfully concerned that overburdened workers are being asked to do too much with too little.

“No one should go into work not knowing when they’ll go home. I’m a mom and I need to be there for my children. I know I let them down that day,” says Hodgkins. “We love our work, but it can’t come at the expense of our families and well-being.”

CUPE 3137 delivered their supermajority letter to the agency’s Board of Directors in advance of the two sides returning to the table tomorrow. The bargaining team remains focused on meaningful improvements on the issue of forced overtime and a reasonable wage that would see workers paid comparably to other agencies.