Morale is plummeting, and workers are being chased from Community Living Upper Ottawa Valley, CLUOV – but for six hours on Tuesday afternoon, frontline developmental service workers paraded through an office in high spirits. With 68 workers casting ballots, 97% voted in favour of a strike if nothing changes at the bargaining table.

“Our jobs are incredibly challenging, exhausting, and too often thankless. We’re frustrated and burnt out. We’re losing workers to other agencies or to sick leave at record numbers. But now my coworkers are energized and excited because we are standing tall and fighting for what we deserve,” explained Emily Lassard, a developmental service worker with 13 years of experience and President of CUPE 5088. “We need something to change. The people we support deserve better. And this show of solidarity should serve as a wakeup call to our employer.”

CUPE 5088’s roughly 130 members have been working without a contract for almost two years. In that time, CLUOV has hired – and lost – roughly 300 workers, a symptom of gross mismanagement and retention problems that have longed plagued the agency.

Workers have been increasingly put in compromising situations in recent years as individuals are forced to do the jobs of three or even four people. This chronic understaffing doesn’t only create health and safety challenges, it means that adults with developmental disabilities aren’t getting the care they deserve. Without enough workers to facilitate community visits, people miss church, shopping trips, and regular outings, grossly impacting their quality of life.

CUPE 5088 members support 150 adults living with disabilities in Pembroke, Petawawa, Eganville, Deep River and throughout the Upper Ottawa Valley. These workers ensure some of the community’s most overlooked have the support they need to live rich, full lives, helping with everything from shopping and cleaning to developing social skills and promoting independence. The bargaining committee’s proposals were developed with input from the workers and would help address longstanding challenges at CLUOV, ensuring adults get the support they need.

“This was a dream job not that long ago. You could support a family and do a job that you’re proud of and that you’re safe doing. That’s not the case anymore. We can’t afford to keep these jobs. We can’t keep ourselves safe while doing them. And we can’t put up with our employer’s disrespect anymore,” said Lessard. “We had around 23 grievances last year. That’s a 500 per cent increase from the previous year because management is trying to unilaterally reinterpret our collective agreement. Our employer thinks they can push, bully, and intimidate us until we comply. We don’t want to go on strike, we want to be supporting the people who depend on us. But we can’t go on like this and we’re not going to fall in line anymore.”