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They marched on the picket line for over a year – all the way into the history books.

Now, the “Fearless Five” home care workers from Montague, Prince Edward Island are finally going back to work.

Their new collective agreement puts an end to the longest strike in the provinces history, and gives the women almost everything they wanted. But it was a lot more than luck that sealed the deal.

Patience and determination paid off in the end, says Donna Maloney, one of the women. We were willing to wait and we just waited.

But time is money, and the women couldnt afford to strike for long. Their small local, CUPE 3373, had little money to support them as they waged war against their employer, the Southern Kings Group Home. So, they looked for a little help from their brothers and sisters, and what they got in return made all the difference.

The women collected $200 a week from CUPEs national strike fund, and topped it up with money from other CUPE locals across Prince Edward Island. But thats not all: the Fearless Five also got financial assistance from CUPE locals across Canada, especially the other Maritime provinces. Earlier this month, Nova Scotias CUPE conference raised $16,800 on their behalf.

Im just kind of in awe about how good people are to us, says Kim MacKenzie, another striker. Its hard to comprehend the generosity.

The generosity of CUPE locals across Canada was a good contrast to their bitter fight with the group home owners. According to CUPE rep Bill McKinnon, the employer ignored all the overtures we made. Time and again, the employer refused to negotiate, and accused the women of giving improper care to the mentally and physically challenged people living in the home. For over a year, the women put up with dirty looks from neighbours, many of whom felt they should just shut up and return to work. The opinion of many in Montague was simple: Just be lucky you have a job. This, despite the fact that their starting wage was $7.22 an hour, with no overtime pay and no benefits. They earned 35 per cent less than group home workers in Charlottetown, 40 kilometres away.

McKinnon says the women relied heavily on the emotional support they got from fellow CUPE members, including the busload from New Brunswick that brought gifts at Christmastime.

Kim MacKenzie is even more adamant. We wouldnt have been able to take a stand against our employer if it wasnt for the National Strike Fund and adopt-a-striker, she says.

Throughout the strike, it was obvious that the employer had one goal, to break the union. Thats why, in the end, the women turned their attention towards another boss on the island: Premier Pat Binns. Last month, on the one-year anniversary of the strike, the women protested against Binns at a $500-a-plate fundraiser he hosted in Toronto. Thats when the employers approach to things appeared to change, says McKinnon. They came under tremendous pressure to get this thing settled.

And within ten days, thats exactly what happened. The Fearless Five were taking a lunch break from the picket line when they got the news by phone. Donna Maloney was so excited she couldnt finish her bowl of fish chowder. I was drove off the head, I couldnt eat, she says with her Newfoundland slang. We were all screaming and crying. People came over to the table and said, Way to go!

Theres still a bit of cash left in the sisters strike account, but Maloney says theyll be able to put it to good use. She wants to buy a new sofa and chair set for the group home, to replace the used furniture the residents have now. (The workers complained about it for years and the employer said if they wanted better seating, they should raise the funds themselves.) It would be poetic justice to say we dont hold grudges, by giving some money to the group home, says Maloney.

The record-setting women expect to be back at work by the end of the month.

(To find out more about the “Fearless Five”, check out their website, http://www.3373onstrike.com)