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

Community Living Espanola 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. More than half of the 40 employees of Community Living Espanola have been working with the agency for more than five years.

There are only a few short-time staff at our agency. Most are senior employees. This is very telling about how dedicated the employees are to their clients. Our first concern is for our clients. We believe that, if the agency treated its employees fairly and with respect, the quality of programs and support for clients would improve, says Anna Sweet, the national representative 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 2462 is now in new contract negotiations with Community Living Espanola, but the agency has refused to bargain in good faith and has made demands for many concessions.

Its clear to us, the agency does not want to resolve our outstanding issues through a constructive negotiation process. The employers own study shows low wages are resulting in diminished services to clients and worker burnout. The 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 Sweet.

The parties have met twice already in conciliation and are meeting for a third time on April 19.

On Tuesday, March 22, CUPE 2462 members voted 98 per cent in favour of strike action.

For more information, please contact:

Anna Sweet, CUPE National Representative, (705) 674-7557
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications, (416) 578-8774