Publisher’s note: For our members employed at the state Office for People With Developmental Disibilities (OPWDD), a career in direct care can be rewarding, as these workers make a positive difference in the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities.

But these rewards also carry a price. Many OPWDD workers face persistent understaffing and repeated mandatory overtime, which can create stress that affects workers on and off the job. It also takes us away from personal or family business.

Direct care workers also must provide high quality care knowing that at any moment, they could face a false accusation of mistreatment of individuals and a Justice Center investigation. Our OPWDD workers must balance the need to care for individuals and themselves. The following account details a Western New York DDSO Local member who, like many of his co-workers, is balancing work and life.

WEST SENECA — Like many members employed in direct care, CSEA members employed at Western New York DDSO are facing stress as they care for individuals with developmental disabilities.

“You have to put yourself first, or you can’t take care of others,” said CSEA member Scott Peoples, a direct support assistant at Western New York DDSO for more than 22 years.

He has worked in developmental centers, Individualized Residential Alternative settings and a group home in the Town of Hamburg.

Peoples, who is married with adult children, points to call center scheduling and mandated overtime as barriers to improving on the promise of exceptional quality care. He added these factors have always been issues for the agency.

Peoples, whose current duties include assisting a man with severe autism, said it’s been very hard for the agency to recruit and keep co-workers when employees are given no viable options about scheduling or overtime mandates.

“No one wants to refuse a mandate to work overtime or be scheduled for more hours,” he said. “All we are asking for is to be part of the solution and a find a remedy that everyone can live with. We would really like to get back to focusing on what’s really important, to continue the delivery of high-quality care we give to the individuals we serve.”

Last fall, CSEA participated in a statewide series of events that recognized workers who regularly go above and beyond the scope of their jobs as part of national Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week.
CSEA continues to work through labor-management channels with the focus on improving employee recruitment and retention.

Our union is actively participating in hiring events throughout the area to try and encourage new workers to apply, highlighting higher wages, worker protections and other benefits that are part of our CSEA union membership.

CSEA is fighting every day to make improvements, small and large, to alleviate understaffing, as well as personal and professional stress, that often stems from mandatory overtime shifts.

-Ove Overmyer

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About Author

Ove Overmyer

Ove Overmyer is an award winning photojournalist and writer who has promoted the virtue of working people and the value of public service throughout his career. His work has been published by many well-respected international media outlets, including PBS Moyers & Co., Steward Update UCS Worker Institute Cornell ILR, CBS News, The Weather Channel, SCI-FY Channel, Associated Press and LOGO-TV. Before joining the CSEA Communications Department staff in 2015, Overmyer was a CSEA member employed by the City of Rochester and an officer of the union for more than 18 years. He covers a 14 county area of Western New York and lives in Rochester, NY.

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