Frontline residential and community outreach workers at Good Shepherd Family Centre, Reaching Home and Women’s Services Hamilton, who are represented by the CUPE 5167, are exhausted from long hours, low pay, and acute workplace stress that has resulted in chronic understaffing, high staff turnover, leading to the rapidly declining wellbeing of workers.

“When workplaces are chronically short-staffed and employees are coming into work not knowing when they’ll be able to go home, it takes a real toll on our members’ mental and physical health,” says Jay Berberick, Vice-President of CUPE 5167. “In recent attempts to improve staffing, management hired 15 new employees, but seven of them quit within a week. The expectations on staff are exceptionally high—in a single shift, members have experienced physical and verbal abuse while assisting individuals within our community that are very vulnerable and handling a multitude of complexities.”

Good Shepherd Family Centre and Women’s Services Hamilton provides approximately 200 shelter bed spaces for the City of Hamilton’s shelter system. During the pandemic, the shelters have been consistently over capacity. The union claims that Good Shepherd’s inability to retain staff boils down to poor wages, which start at around $16.00 per hour, and exceedingly difficult working conditions.

“It’s absolutely heart-breaking—our members care very deeply for the people they support and want them to have the resources they need to get stabilized and properly housed,” continued Berberick. “Workers simply don’t have the support they need from the employer to meet the needs of those entering the shelter system.”

Complaints to Good Shepherd about the safety of workers and staffing concerns have not resulted in substantive workplace change or any real improvement of working conditions, reports the union.

“Working in emergency shelters and community outreach, including home visits to some of the most vulnerable in our community, is a high-risk job. You never know what you’ll be walking into during a shift or how long you’ll be working on a given day,” continued Berberick. “We’re just asking for the respect our members deserve so we can continue working in this important sector, providing support to individuals who may not have anyone or anywhere else to turn to.”