More than 250 members of CUPE 5435 have ratified their first collective agreement after almost eight months of bargaining made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic. The agreement will provide higher standards for working conditions in private group homes, where the majority of the local’s members work.

The group homes run by CBI Health, where members of the local are employed, experience some of the highest staff turnover rates in Saskatchewan because of pay disparity, the state of relationships between workers and management, and other issues. Alex Osei-Owusu, president of CUPE 5435, said members are optimistic this agreement will give them the tools to change these longstanding items.

Prior to unionizing, “workers didn’t even have a say when it comes to disciplinary issues and investigations that concern them,” he said. “You were simply shown the door out.” Osei-Owusu hopes that the protections, seniority status, and recognition of both full and part-time status for employees will help to resolve this problem.

Most members of CUPE 5435 work as community support workers and childcare workers, supporting the vulnerable children and adolescents living in these homes. While this work is rewarding, it can be quite difficult, and burnout is always an issue. As a result of the agreement these workers have won, they will receive consistent pay increases as well as much-needed time off for vacation, sick leave, and bereavement leave.