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REGINA: Striking group home workers at Cheshire Homes in Regina will be on the picket line in bitterly cold weather for at least another five days because the employer doesn’t have any time this week to continue contract negotiations and conclude a settlement.

The two sides met with provincial conciliator Doug Forseth on Tuesday night and exchanged proposals. The union felt they were close to a settlement.

We were crossing our fingers and hoping we had a deal,” says CUPE Local 3207 President Margaret Mukakigeli. But instead of returning with a settlement offer, the employer adjourned conciliation talks, stating it needed to consult with the board.

We were stunned they did that,” says Mukakigeli. “It is so disrespectful of the staff and the residents.”

It’s the third time since the strike began on January 19, that the employer has postponed talks. The last time the two sides met, January 25, the employer delayed conciliation talks for nine days. “The employer is really showing us what they are made of and it is not impressive,” says Mukakigeli.

The provincial government gave group homes a significant funding increase last year to improve wages and benefits. Cheshire Homes, which operates five homes in Regina for people with mental and physical challenges, received an additional $97,000. The improved funding represented about a 17 per cent increase for the workers, who earn a starting salary of $8.55 an hour.

But the employer refused to pass the increases on to its employees – a move that provoked the strike by the 35 group home workers. Although the employer has improved its wage offer since the strike began, it wants to exclude one employee – the local president – from any wage increase on November 1, 2005 the date of the first influx of new cash from the government.

It’s disgraceful,” says CUPE staff representative Mike Keith. “The employer’s actions at this bargaining table continue to demonstrate the need for the provincial government to play a much stronger role in managing these agencies.”

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Contact: Mike Keith at 536-4856 or 525-5874 or Margaret Mukakigeli at 531-6863.