Community Living Algoma collective agreement finally addresses forced overtime

After multiple rounds of bargaining, representatives from Community Living Algoma and CUPE 1880 ratified a new collective agreement Jan. 24, penciling in language that's meant to tackle the ongoing issue of forced overtime.

CUPE bargaining unit chair Ciarra Pilon told The Sault Star she was mostly happy with the state of this contract that's good up until March 2026, since it marks the first time this specific problem has been addressed in a collective agreement with CLA.

"We've had a lot of scheduling concerns for a very very long time," said Pilon, who also serves as a frontline worker at CLA. "And with community-based housing becoming such a big part of the agency, and not the traditional group living ... we didn't have any language around [forced overtime] and we needed it."

While Pilon and CLA executive director John Policicchio declined to supply The Star with a copy of this new collective agreement, the pair disclosed some broad details about the new language surrounding forced overtime.

The Star later obtained a copy of the collective agreement and was able to corroborate these details.

For one thing, CLA officials agreed to provide better financial compensation to staff who must work past their regular hours.

This will be facilitated through a meal allowance ($20 to an employee should forced overtime exceed four hours) and other reimbursements that come into play when a worker must incur undue costs or inconveniences due to forced overtime.

"If people get off work between midnight and 6 a.m. because of forced [overtime], and they don't have their own vehicle, then we would pay for a cab for the person to get home," Policicchio said.

"And there's support for any day-care costs incurred or if somebody is supporting an elderly family member, we would pay for reasonable costs in those situations."

The new collective agreement spells out specific parameters for forced overtime pay in general, with the staff being entitled to time-and-a-half during the first four hours and double time after four hours.

"But we're hoping we never have to use [double time]," Policicchio said. "So far it's just been time-and-a-half that we've been triggering."

CLA and the union also negotiated general wage increases in this new collective agreement, with staff securing a raise of 50 cents per hour in 2024 and 75 cents per hour in 2025.

Full-time employees also received a stipend of $2,000 for the previous year, with part-time and relief staff being entitled to a $800 lump sum payment.

Pilon was less enthusiastic about these changes.

"That doesn't come anywhere near inflation. I have members who are financially struggling that have to go work another job," the union representative said.

"With some of the scheduling issues we have, it makes it complicated for them to even get by and it's very worrisome."

While forced overtime has been a long-standing problem in the developmental services sector, the issue flared up locally last December when CUPE 1880 members submitted a letter to CLA management, complaining that over three-quarters of its members had to work overtime throughout the past couple months.

At the time, Policicchio told The Sault Star that unplanned overtime, usually triggered when an employee falls ill or because of other extenuating circumstances, is unfortunately part of the job when you work for a service that provides 24-hour care.

This is especially true for an agency the size of CLA that assists hundreds of people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the Algoma District, with offices in Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa, Hornepayne and Elliot Lake.

However, Policicchio agreed that the current level of forced overtime being experienced by his staff was too high and said he was going to work with the union and CLA management internally to improve this situation.

Now, with this new collective agreement and the recent hiring of five additional full-time staff, the CLA executive director said they are on the right track to a much healthier workplace.

"Honestly, we're working hard at it," he said. "We'll continue to work internally as the labour management committee meets monthly and we will continue to talk about issues in open door discussions."

A former CLA employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, recently told The Star they are significantly less optimistic about the positive impact this new collective agreement will bring.

In an email, this ex-CLA worker pointed out what they saw as multiple weak points in this new collective agreement, including a clause which stipulates that CLA management will make "all reasonable efforts" to relieve forced shift workers.

"What is the definition of all reasonable efforts?" they wrote. "Would they not have done that all along? CLA has said all along that work life balance was the utmost of importance so this seems ridiculous that they need to put it in writing."

The Star talked to another anonymous former CLA worker who is similarly dubious about this issue being resolved through any new collective agreement in the future.

Instead, they said these systemic problems, including forced overtime, burnout and high staff turnover, are being caused by CLA and specifically Policicchio, whose management style is cultivating a "genuinely unhappy work environment."

"It's this constant revolving door [with a] lack of consistency and lack of training, which filters down to poor care for the people who are the most vulnerable," they said.

CLA was founded in 1994 and currently services over 900 people in the Algoma District.

kdarbyson@postmedia.com

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government

Kyle Darbyson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sault Star