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REGINA: Provincial conciliator Doug Forseth will meet with both sides in the Cheshire Homes dispute at 5 p.m. today in an effort to help find a resolution to the six-day strike at the Regina group home.

About 35 group home workers at Cheshire, members of CUPE Local 3207, walked off the job last Friday, after the employer refused to improve its wage offer of two per cent.

Cheshire Homes, which operates three homes in Regina for people with physical and mental challenges, received an additional $97,000 from the provincial government last year to improve the wages and benefits of its employees. 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 walkout last Friday.

Margaret Mukakigeli, the local president, says the wages at Cheshire Homes are not competitive. “At the top of our pay scale, we make $12.13 an hour, while someone doing similar work at Pioneer Village earns a top rate of $18 an hour. It’s no mystery why we can’t retain staff. Everything hinges on the wages.”

The Calvert government provided significant funding increases to group homes across the province last year. The money was specifically allocated for wage and benefit improvements.

Most group home workers have received their salary increases. But Cheshire Homes in Regina insists it can only afford increases of two per cent.

The provincial auditor has raised concerns about the financial accountability of group homes and other community-based agencies. In its 2006 report, the auditor urged the government “to strengthen its supervision of these agencies.”

CUPE staff representative Mike Keith says the government should act on that recommendation by dealing with the situation at Cheshire Homes.

In the meantime, CUPE members on the picket line at Cheshire Homes are hopeful conciliation will produce a fair settlement.

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