Essex, ON – There was a moment last year when Ricki Tofflemire thought she’d have to quit being a personal support worker, a position she worked towards for years. The single mother of two was working part time at Community Living Essex County (CLEC) but clocking 50 hours from Thursday to Saturday. She didn’t have anything left to give her kids.

“I was emotionally drained. I was burnt out and sick. I’d come home, exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep knowing I was going right back to work in a few hours,” said Tofflemire who had to rely on her parents for help for extended periods of time. “My kids need me to be there for them, but I couldn’t. Wednesday nights were always toughest. They’d get upset knowing they wouldn’t see me again for days.”

Tofflemire’s situation isn’t unique. Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3137 – representing nearly 600 developmental service workers and administrative staff at CLEC – are regularly forced to stay long after their shift ends; others work 70 hours a week but are denied full time roles and the pay and benefits that come with them.

The practice of forced overtime – when a worker goes in for a scheduled 12-hour shift but can be made to stay for a full day or two without overtime pay – has been a primary focus of bargaining. CLEC management, so far, has agreed to additional pay but are refusing to do anything to address the systemic issues that lead to worker burnout that almost forced Tofflemire from the agency. This refusal led to near unanimous strike vote last week with roughly 400 members casting ballots and 97 per cent voting in favour of a strike.

“Paying us for our time is the bare minimum but that alone won’t do anything to stop the practice from happening. They are insisting that being stuck on shift is mandatory. That takes away worker’s rights and our ability to have lives and be there for our families,” explained Paul Brennan, a frontline worker and CUPE 3137 President. “I regularly have workers coming to me who are burnt out and looking for other jobs. This offer won’t change that. It won’t give us any balance or wellbeing. They need to make these jobs more attractive so they can recruit and retain skilled workers.”

The agency is currently operating with roughly 100 fewer staff than in recent years, despite the demand for services increasing. This has put added pressure on the workers who remain.

“I love this work and I am proud to help adults with developmental disabilities live full lives. But it can’t come to at the expense of my family,” said Tofflemire. “If things don’t change, I don’t see a future here.”

CUPE 3137’s bargaining team returns to the table for the final day of scheduled negotiations on February 29.


For more information, contact:
Jesse Mintz, CUPE Communications Representative
416 704 9642
[email protected]