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Hundreds of ODSP workers rally across Ontario to protest SAMS breakdown

Hundreds of frontline workers with the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rallied in towns and cities across the province today in a show of solidarity with recipients of the program whose social assistance payments have been compromised by a deeply flawed computer system.

“It’s painfully obvious: SAMS has introduced chaos into Ontario’s social assistance system placing an incredible amount of pressure on frontline staff and depriving social assistance recipients of essential income, employment and medical supports,” Ontario Public Service Employees Union President Warren (Smokey) Thomas told a crowd of ODSP workers and supporters in downtown Toronto today. OPSEU represents more than 2,000 ODSP caseworkers and support staff in 30 communities across the province.

“For months prior to the launch of SAMS, OPSEU members were incredibly vocal about the shortcomings and deficiencies of the flawed software. You warned the government multiple times that SAMS was incapable of administering critical program functions and that the software was not ready to be implemented,” said Thomas. “Unfortunately, those warnings were ignored.”

The OPSEU president repeated his call that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne should fire Helena Jaczek, minister of community and social services, for her failure to heed the warnings of ministry staff that launching SAMS last autumn was premature and that the system contained flaws that required correcting.

The rallies coincided with the union’s application today to seek a Court order to suspend the SAMS program from use until it can provide reliable, timely and accurate benefits to those in need. OPSEU was joined in its application by community groups and affected recipients.

Thomas said OPSEU has no intention of letting up pressure on the government to thoroughly examine the troubled computer system and what steps must be taken to fix the problems.

And he paid tribute to the tireless work of those OPSEU members who ensure that ODSP and Ontario Work recipients are treated with the dignity to which they are entitled.

“You carry the weight of your client’s hardships,” he said. “You put in the time and energy to try and resolve problems created by SAMS. You work to ensure vulnerable people are not forced to go without.”

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Warren (Smokey) Thomas