Developmental service workers in Alliston speak out after concussions, stitches and broken bones

Community Living Association of South Simcoe. Via Google Maps

Developmental services workers in Alliston, Ont., are raising concerns about a dangerous work environment after multiple reports of assaults.

Developmental services workers at the Community Living Association of South Simcoe (CLASS) are calling for their employer to take immediate action following numerous incidents of workplace violence in the past year.

The union representing the workers, OPSEU, said Local 332 members had reported multiple physical and verbal assaults while supporting individuals in the community living facility to their employer.

The union said the multiple threats to workers’ safety come after an increase in individuals with psychiatric and substance use issues being served at the organization.

“Enough is enough. We are not equipped or trained to house clients with psychiatric and substance use issues, and the facilities in community living settings are not designed for individuals who have a history of violence,” says Allan May, president of OPSEU Local 332.

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“Our members cannot provide adequate support for these individuals, and our employer needs to immediately protect the safety of CLASS workers.”

CLASS provides support for people with developmental disabilities with the help of funding from the Ministry of Children and Social Services.

The workers at CLASS assist clients in their daily activities and support them in participating in the community, through social and community activities, employment and volunteer opportunities.

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In a statement, the organization’s executive director Andrew Walker said the pandemic hit the developmental services sector hard.

“Issues like program closures, increased isolation and staffing shortages made for a difficult period for all developmental service organizations, including CLASS. As we transition to a post-COVID world, there are lessons still being learned every day to help improve our services and supports,” Walker said.

“Any reports of violence or threats are taken seriously and treated with an immediate response. Well-being and safety of employees and people supported have always been and will always be top of mind in all planning and support decisions.”

But the union said incidents of workplace violence have resulted in concussions, stitches, broken bones and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Local 332 members say police have been called numerous times in the past year to respond to violent incidents in the group homes.

The union said CLASS did provide staff with protective gear following the assaults but added it did not prevent further incidents from occurring as the community living environment and staff training are not conducive to supporting the needs of higher-risk clients.

The organization’s executive director said the facility has been inspected by the Ministry of Labour and received positive feedback about its work environments, internal procedures and support conditions and is subjected to a compliance audit by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, which includes making sure all staff are receiving proper training.

OPSEU president JP Hornick emphasized that CLASS is responsible for protecting workers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which he said leadership should consider before accepting the additional funding it receives to take on higher-risk clients.

“The employees at CLASS care deeply about the clients they support and want to see them live fulfilling, successful lives, but that service should never be at the expense of their own lives,” said Hornick.

“It is unacceptable that CLASS has not adhered to their mandate to protect staff from danger and is allowing violent incidents to continue. They have failed their employees, and they must intervene immediately.”


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