Maple Ridge disabled program in doubt

Depot maintains workers are paid for all their work

Richard Niesman sorts bottles at the recycling depot Monday afternoon. The program that employs him and 28 others will end in December.

Richard Niesman sorts bottles at the recycling depot Monday afternoon. The program that employs him and 28 others will end in December.

Community Living B.C. wants to work with the Ridge Meadows Recycling Society to change to a newer program because it doesn’t want to continue the old sheltered work program in which it says mentally challenged workers are not paid for their entire time on the job.

“My understanding is they’re not paid for part of the time they are there,” said Doug Woollard, vice-president of organizational development with Community Living.

“I understand they work and are not paid for that.”

That’s not true, counters Kim Day, executive-director with the recycling society.

All workers are paid minimum wage from the time their shift starts – but many arrive early or have to wait for the Handi-Dart bus after their shift ends, in which case they’re not paid for that waiting time, Day explained.

“You’re paid for working, when you’re working.

“We definitely support them while they’re on site, but not in a work setting.

“That’s part of what it means to be in a supported work environment.”

Twenty-nine developmentally disabled workers, along with three support workers, were to be laid off Sept. 30, after Community Living said it wouldn’t renew the contract.

Since then, a three-month extension until, Dec. 31, has been granted to the program, in which those with mentally disabilities earn minimum wage of $8.75 an hour in part-time jobs sorting and processing recyclables at the depot in the Albion industrial area.

Despite Social Development Minister Harry Bloy’s comment on CKNW radio Thursday that all parties are working to maintain the program, Community Living says it wants to change to a more current employment program.

NDP MLA Michael Sather said on CKNW that he still couldn’t understand what the government was doing.

“In my two terms as MLA, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

While the program has been extended another three months, “These clients will be getting pink slips for Christmas.”

Doug Woollard, vice-president with Community Living, said following a review in the 1990s, most sheltered work programs were cancelled, mainly because of non-compliance with the Employment Standards Act, in which people were working for less than minimum wage.

“The program in Maple Ridge is one of the few operating under that model,” he said.

“What we’re saying is, if the organization wants to work with us, we’re willing to work with them to help them through that transition.”

Otherwise, the $270,000 that Community Living now forwards to the recycling society for running the program will go directly to help the individuals who’ll lose their jobs in December.

He said the changes aren’t a result of cuts from the provincial government to Community Living B.C.

“There have been no reductions in our budget since we started in 2005.”

Day said she was “optimistic and hopeful,” particularly with $9 million in funding announced Wednesday for Community Living, that “we can turn this around,” and noted people involved in other supported work programs in the province called to offer support.

“We want to work together and come up with something that works for everyone.”

However, she still hasn’t been informed directly by Community Living about any future meetings.

Should the supported work program actually be cancelled, the recycling society can continue. “We have options that the society will look at if it doesn’t work.”

She didn’t know if the loss of the supported workers would mean an increase in operating costs at the depot and pointed out the supported work program has extra costs that wouldn’t usually be incurred.

Under the supported work program, after receiving training, developmentally disabled workers have gone to work as full-time employees at the depot or found jobs at other businesses.

Woollard, however, wouldn’t comment on Community Living’s cut of $61,000 in funding for the support coordinator position at Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services.

The supported volunteer program allows 28 developmentally disabled volunteers to help out with groups such as the Salvation Army or SPCA.

Without the support coordinator to provide day-to-day help for the disabled, most will lose their volunteer positions.

That drew the ire of the Canadian Union of Public Employees as a “poorly conceived cost-cutting move that only punishes society’s most vulnerable.

“Pulling the rug out from under these people is really unfair. It robs them of opportunities to engage with the larger community,” said CUPE 3941 president Charlene Linden.

She says it’s part of a disturbing trend that devalues community-based services for the disabled.

“These clients really value the program, and don’t see it as a volunteer placement—it’s more like a job for them,” she says. “But most could not find a job on their own, so what are they going to do now? Some of them are older, and it’s difficult to look for work. What kind of message is the government sending, by leaving them out in the cold?”