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Ontario service workers say they were fired for speaking out about unsafe conditions

Community Living Association of South Simcoe. Via Google Maps

Three developmental service workers in the community of Alliston are alleging they were fired for raising concerns about a what they claim is a dangerous work environment at the Community Living Association of South Simcoe (CLASS).

In December 2022, the union representing the workers, OPSEU, told reporters Local 332 members had reported multiple physical and verbal assaults while supporting individuals in the community living facility.

Following that date, local union president and direct support professional Allan May said he, the union’s treasurer and a joint health and safety representative were let go from their jobs on Feb. 1.

“Yes, we work with developmental disabilities, getting spit on, kicked and punched. We know we get that, and we’re trained with non-violent crisis intervention, so that’s good, but they seem to be increasing, and we just can’t keep up — a lot of concussions, a broken nose, a lot of violence happening,” May said in an interview.

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

May said while the facility is making some changes to address concerns, it’s not enough to stop the violence.

“We did one lobby (campaign), and that was enough,” May said. “Then, on Feb. 1, the three of us were brought in and fired, without any talking, just given the envelope. They said it was a lot of violation of policies, and we weren’t told anything,” he went on to allege.

May said they had reported the company to Ontario’s Ministry of Labour multiple times, adding many workers don’t report their injuries for fear of reprisal.

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On Tuesday, May said 100 to 200 union members were holding a rally outside the facility’s Allison location to protest the firings.

In a statement, the organization’s executive director Andrew Walker said they support the union’s right to gather, but “fiercely disagree with the union’s claims” about wrongful dismissal.

“As always, the details are between the organization and the individuals, however, we can share that these dismissals were grounded in facts related to the applicable laws, and aligned with not only our policies, but our values,” Walker said.

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“Our employees are our partners in providing exceptional services and supports to people with developmental disabilities. The wellbeing and safety of both employees and people supported have always been and will always be top of mind in all planning and support decisions and training provided.”

Walker said they take all reports of violence or threats seriously and immediately respond.

“CLASS has a proven track record of providing a safe work environment as evidenced by annual compliance audits by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) and positive inspections by the Ministry of Labour,” he said.

The Ministry of Labour said it was aware of the union’s wrongful dismissal complaint. An inspector has been assigned to the case, and the ministry says it could not further comment on an ongoing investigation.

When asked about previous workplace safety reports involving CLASS, the ministry didn’t provide any immediate information.

In December, Walker attributed some issues to pandemic staffing, and said they were working to improve services.

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

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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.

May, who has worked for CLASS for 32 years and has been union president for 20 years, is a year away from retirement, said he and the workers all want their jobs back.

May said the union is pursuing several legal avenues to regain their jobs.

In addition to the employees’ reinstatement, May said more still needs to be done to address issues of violence, which he said are linked to the agency taking on people with severe mental health concerns and addiction issues.

“We can take people like this because they have to have somewhere to go, but we’re not equipped for it.”

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