Mount Allison faculty strike

Faculty at Mount Allison University started a legal strike on Jan. 27. (CBC)

Mount Allison University officials say classes will resume at the university on Monday despite an impasse between striking faculty and administration.

University provost and vice-president Karen Grant said Friday afternoon that negotiations teams for the administration and the Mount Allison Faculty Association will meet throughout the weekend with a provincial mediation officer to "work out the details of the transition back to class."

Three weeks of classes have been lost to a faculty strike and the mediated negotiations broke off Thursday without an agreement.

However, Grant and Post-Secondary Education Minister Jody Carr both said the parties will meet on the weekend in Sackville.

"As an important stating point, both parties expect classes to resume on Monday and they both expect to use binding arbitration to resolve outstanding issues," said Grant.

The negotiating teams will be working with Rick Merrill, the province's assistant director of conciliation and mediation services, she said.

Conflicting statements cause confusion

Confusion resulted Thursday night when the university administration informed the public that classes would resume on Monday following an agreement between the parties to enter into arbitration.

The Mount Allison Faculty Association denied an agreement for arbitration was in place and maintained the strike was still on.

Carr told reporters in Fredericton the two sides had agreed to meet with the provincial mediation officer who has worked with the parties throughout the negotiations, in hopes that some sort of agreement can be reached.

"This will take place tomorrow, in Sackville, with the ultimate goal of having students return to classes as soon as possible," said Carr.

"Back to work legislation is the ultimate last resort. Our options are being exhausted but we haven't given up hope for the two sides to reach an agreement themselves," he said.

The university administration and Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) issued conflicting statements late Thursday night.

'If the university is not prepared to negotiate our reasonable terms of settlement and a scope of arbitration, then we would still be on strike.'- Loralea Michaelis, MAFA president

The university said MAFA accepted its proposal of voluntary binding arbitration and classes will resume on Monday.

But MAFA responded by accusing the university of falsely declaring an end to the strike.

"We have not yet concluded any agreement with the administration on our proposal for binding arbitration, the terms of which are very different from the proposal which the administration made last week," it said.

"The administration cannot declare an end to the strike until these and other related matters have been resolved."

MAFA president Loralea Michaelis maintained that position on Friday.

"The claim that the strike is over is misleading, it's upsetting, it's upsetting for the students. It's mystifying to me why the university would issue that kind of an announcement. They don't have the complete authority to guarantee that," she told CBC news.

Still, Grant says she has it on good authority from the mediator that as of Monday, the strike will be over.

"That was done based on communication to both the university and the faculty association that classes should begin on Monday, February 17th," she said.

Michaelis says she has not seen that document.

"If the university is not prepared to negotiate our reasonable terms of settlement and a scope of arbitration, then we would still be on strike," she said.

Students worried

Melissa O'Rourke, the president of the Mount Allison Students' Union, says students are concerned about the messy situation.

"I genuinely am hoping that even through all of this confusion that we're going to have an announcement today that says 100 per cent we can go back to classes on Monday."

By late Friday afternoon, students like Liam Hickey were still confused and worried they may not be able to salvage their semester.

"Today's it's been a bit, uh, I'd used more colourful language, but it's been a little crazy today. From last night, the strikes off, then now today, 'Oh they lied, strike's back on.' Really no one has any idea what's going on," he said. 

Full-time faculty and librarians walked off the job in a legal strike on Jan. 27, bringing classes to a halt for 2,400 students.

The Mount Allison Faculty Association points to workload as a key issue in the dispute, and says the administration needs to provide greater support to the university's core mission. The association also points to salaries, pensions and benefits as areas of contention.