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Sarnia Programs and support for people with developmental disabilities and their families in Sarnia/Lambton are woefully underfunded, and both community living workers and clients are paying the price, say front line counsellors.

Community Living Sarnia/Lambton provides residential and vocational support for people with intellectual disabilities and their families. Chronic provincial underfunding for services has led to long waiting lists, understaffing, heavy workloads and low wages in the sector.

Faced with high client staffing ratios, ageing clients needing a high level of care, and sometimes violence in the workplace, many talented hard-working counsellors leave the agency even before their training period is complete. More than half of the 153 employees of Community Living Sarnia/Lambton have been working with the agency for less than two years.

There are only a few long-time staff at our agency. Most are new employees. This is very telling about how difficult the work can be. Because of the low pay and demanding stressful work, many resign. This means there is a high staff turnover rate and a lack of continuity of care that puts both clients and workers at risk.

Our first concern is for our clients. We believe that, if the agency paid higher wages, more staff would stay and the quality of programs and support for clients would improve, says Brian Biggers, the president of Local 4370 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the union representing agency staff.

A study commissioned by community living employers across Ontario shows that workers in this field earn 25 per cent less than comparable social service staff. CUPE 4370 is now in new contract negotiations with Community Living Sarnia/Lambton, but the agency has yet to agree to any face-to-face bargaining.

Its clear to us, the agency does not want to resolve our outstanding issues through a constructive negotiations process. The employers own study shows low wages are resulting in diminished services to clients and worker burnout. Our agency now has an opportunity to provide underpaid workers with the wage compensation we deserve and tell the government more funding is badly needed for community living services, says Biggers, a support assistant with Community Living Sarnia/Lambton for 15 years, and one of the few long-time staff at the agency.

CUPE 4370 members will be taking a strike vote on Sunday, March 6, 2005 at 1:30 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. at the Best Western Guildwood Inn (Venetian Blvd.), Sarnia.

For more information, please contact:

Brian Biggers, President, CUPE 4370, (519) 333-7109;

Cyndi Brumaroff, Vice-President, CUPE 4370, (519) 330-3757;

Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications, (416) 578-8774.