Negotiations break off in Mount Allison faculty strike

Mount Allison University has renewed calls for binding arbitration in the faculty strike after a provincially-appointed mediator was unable to help the parties reach a tentative agreement.

University administration and faculty unable to reach agreement after 2 days of talks with mediator

Mount Allison University has renewed calls for binding arbitration in the faculty strike after a provincially-appointed mediator was unable to help the parties reach a tentative agreement.

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

“This is a very disappointing outcome,” Karen Grant, Mount Allison’s provost and vice-president academic and research said in a statement on Thursday afternoon.

“Our students have now been out of the classroom for three weeks. We hoped special outside mediation would help the parties achieve a negotiated settlement." 

Grant said it may take the province stepping in to end the dispute.

"As always, our primary focus is getting students back to class as quickly as possible. We now encourage the provincial government to consider intervening by introducing back-to-work legislation. It is imperative that our students not miss any more class time,” said Grant Thursday afternoon.

Lorlea Michaelis, president of the Mount Allison Faculty Association, said Thursday evening that the faculty is proposing what she calls a "voluntary binding arbitration." 

“[The university is] proposing a final offer selection, which is kind of an all or nothing affair where each of the parties puts together a package and the arbitrator chooses between the two packages. We’re proposing interest arbitration, which is an issue by issue arbitration," she said.

“There could still be some back and forth on it. It’s less high risk and it still allows for some input."

Michaelis said teachers and library staff are keen to get back to work. 

"Although we did not get a deal, mediation was not a wasted effort.  Many  issues were clarified as a result of the process.  We now have a solution to get back to work," Michaelis said.  "We look forward to a positive response from the administration to our proposal."

Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Jody Carr issued a statement late Thursday, saying he is "extremely disappointed" the two sides failed to reach an agreement, despite the assistance of a special outside mediator.

“Our preference has always been for an agreement to be reached by both parties working together at the bargaining table," he said, without directly addressing the call to intervene.

Minister 'evaluating the situation'

Carr has asked for a full briefing on the two days of talks.

"I am evaluating the situation and am acutely aware of the impact this dispute is having on students, parents, families and the university community," he said.

“As a government, our priority is to protect the students’ ability to finish their term with the least amount of disruption possible."

The Mount Allison Students' union is also calling on the government to intervene. President Melissa O'Rourke says she is "appalled" the two parties did not reach a compromise.

"I think students have been more than accommodating to the collective bargaining process, but they can't afford to do that anymore," she told CBC News.

"So we actually have taken a stance today that is in support of government intervention — the provincial government legislating the end to the strike and sending the collective agreement to binding arbitration."

The students' union will be transporting students to Fredericton on Tuesday to rally the government to end the strike.

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.

Earlier this week, Carr ordered striking faculty and the administration to resume negotiations with the help of mediator Larry Steinberg of Ontario.

Talks were held on Wednesday and Thursday, but the parties were unable to come to an agreement.

The university is now working on scheduling options to protect the academic year, according to its statement.

The University of New Brunswick has cancelled its March break and extended the school year into April to make up for lost time due to its recent faculty strike.

In that strike, the parties reached a settlement after two days of talks with a government-appointed mediator.

Mount Allison and the faculty association have been negotiating a new collective agreement since August.