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A unique courier service criss-crossed Saskatchewan recently, gathering letters, petitions and messages from workers in group homes, day cares and other community-based organizations (CBO) to deliver to the new Saskatchewan premier.

CUPE joined with two other unions to organize the Premier Express Courier as part of the Were Worth More campaign to demand improved government funding for community-based agencies.

Decorated in slogans proclaiming Poverty Wages Dont Pay The Bills, 2% Is A Milk Product Not A Wage Increase, and Up With Womens Wages, the Premier Express Courier visited communities from Preeceville to North Battleford during the coldest week of winter.

Were driving home the message to Premier Calvert that were not prepared to work for pitifully poor wages any longer, says courier crew member Joanne Mountney. Joanne, the CUPE chair of the CBO sector, works at a group home in Melville. She earns $8.05 an hour caring for people with mental and physical challenges.

The workers are seeking equal pay with provincial government employees. A comprehensive wage study completed in

1999 found that CBO workers earned about $10.00 less an hour than employees in government doing comparable work.

Employees in community-based agencies carried their messages to the Premier Express Courier in a hope chest in Melville, a box of chicken feed in Nipawin and a giant milk carton in North Battleford. They also organized a Macaroni Dinner in Prince Albert and a Caravan of Clunkers in Saskatoon to mark the couriers arrival.

Premier Lorne Calvert greeted the courier at the Regina legislature late February. After a meeting with the union crew, he promised the government would address the funding problem in the provincial budget on March 30.

Although the budget contained a significant funding increase of $6.2 million for community-based agencies more than double previous budget allocations there was no commitment to a long-term plan. The unions were looking for an extra $40 million over four years to achieve equal pay with provincial government employees who earn about $10.00 an hour more for comparable work.

As the provinces social services minister acknowledged: We recognize this funding increase, while significant, is not the ultimate solution.

Joanne Mountney is disappointed. I was expecting quite a bit more from this government, she said. My pay may rise to $9 an hour with this increase but thats not nearly enough.

She predicts the courier will have to hit the road again because we havent reached our destination yet.

Beth Smillie