Alward government may intervene in UNB strike next week

The New Brunswick government may consider intervening in the UNB faculty strike, which is about to enter its third week.

Post-Scondary Education minister's comments come as students hold protest rallies province-wide

Students at UNB staged a demonstration against the ongoing faculty strike Friday. 1:17

The New Brunswick government may consider intervening in the UNB faculty strike, which is about to enter its third week.

Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Jody Carr says he wants to see if any progress is made this weekend through a provincial mediator.

If not, he said, he may consider stepping in.

Carr's comments come as University of New Brunswick students demonstrated across the province on Friday, in a bid to get striking faculty members and the university administration back to the bargaining table.

Students, who have already missed two weeks of classes because of the strike, say they are the ones suffering and it was time to take a stand.

UNB students say they're not angry, just disappointed as the faculty strike enters its second week. (UNB Student Union/Twitter)
"We're being held hostage," said fourth year nursing student Vicki Phillips, who was among those protesting in front of Moncton City Hall. "We feel like pawns in a cruel, cruel game."

Phillips said her patience is wearing thin.

"Both sides are being stubborn, both sides are not trying to compromise. We are trying to stand up for ourselves at this point — this is about us," she said.

About 550 full-time professors, teaching staff and librarians walked off the job nearly two weeks ago over wages and working conditions.

The two sides remain far apart and no new talks are scheduled.

Graduating students like Andrew Reimer are worried about their future. "Right now, I'm trying to talk to potential employers, trying, you know, to line up a job for me. It's really hard to be having chats on the phone saying, 'You know what? I'll probably be graduating this spring.'"

'Wasted' tuition

The protests at the Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John campuses were organized by the Student Union.

"Essentially what we want is the parties back at the table, and we're taking every avenue we can to try to get the parties back negotiating to get this collective agreement," said Student Union  president Ben Whitney. "So any way we can get that to happen, that we can get this sped up is good."

The union says each undergraduate student loses $48 every day the strike drags on.

A counter on its website suggests more than $2 million in tuition has already been "wasted waiting for both sides to sort this out." That figure represents only full-time undergrads on the Fredericton campus, it says.

"When you take into account graduate students, part-time students and our friends from other campuses, the number is even higher."

The Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers is seeking an increase of more than 23 per cent over four years in order to bring salaries in line with those at Canadian universities of comparable size.

The university is offering a 9.5 per cent increase over the same period.

Will Russell, who is studying law and is president of the University of New Brunswick's Law Students' Society, says there is mounting frustration among students who keep hearing professors and administrators say they have the best interests of their students at heart, yet neither side is at the negotiating table.

"If we're going to have any hope of our semester continuing and any hope of an agreement being reached they're going to have to talk," said Russell.

 "And right now, we're looking at the province to have some assistance in making that happen," he said.

Union opposed third-party solution

On Thursday, the University of New Brunswick's Law Students' Society sent a letter to Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Jody Carr, calling on the provincial government to intervene.

Some of the options, it said, include binding arbitration, or a third party mediator.

"We're really looking more for the assistance of the province to mediate, to exercise their authority in more of a soft manner, to say, 'Let's get back to the table, let's facilitate a discussion and let's get students back in class,'" said Russell.

The AUNBT is against a third-party solution, said Allan Reid, chair of the grievance committee.

"We would like the government to stay out of it," he told CBC News. "Anytime government gets involved in labour negotiations, it's interfering with free collective bargaining."

The union wants "a resolution, not a quick fix," its website states.

"A third-party resolution would get us all back to class, but would interfere with our members' legal rights, could have negative long-term effects, would not resolve underlying problems."

Third-party solutions would only postpone the dispute, the AUNBT contends.

A freely negotiated agreement is the best solution, it says, because it is designed by the people who have to live with it, is more likely to have buy-in, respects the right to bargain and maintains UNB's autonomy.

The university, however, is open to the idea, said spokesperson Peter McDougall.

"If there are services that are available and processes that are put in place to try to bring about a quick resolution to the current situation, we would be more than interested and more than prepared to participate in that," he said.