More than 400 faculty, librarians, lab instructors and extension staff at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish are on strike and began picketing Monday morning.

"We've got amazing support from the community. People are bringing by treats and honking and coming to visit," said Patricia Cormack, a sociology professor on the picket lines.

"Members of the campus have also been extremely supportive, they got up early and came out and spent some time on the picket before they had to go to work."

Peter McInnis, the president of the St. FX Association of University Teachers, said he feels the university administration is unlikely to modify its position until a strike has started.

He said the pickets, which are in five locations around the campus, will work in four shifts between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

"We've done a lot of training and preparation for all of this eventuality. We feel our members are informed about what they can do on a picket line, we have some literature to hand out for people," said McInnis.

The 400 members of the St. FX Association of University Teachers have been without a contract for eight months.

"I definitely look at the university administration a little less now just because St. FX, everyone goes for the wonderful undergrad experience and that's why I came here," said Alicia Siliker, a second-year university student from Kensington, P.E.I.

"Now that this is happening, it's really hurting our reputation as a school and so I really feel like the university just needs to step up and do what they have to do and so that we can continue getting a good education."

Emergency talks end last week

A last-ditch effort by the parties to ward off a strike ended last week after two days of talks.

Three weeks ago, the faculty association rejected an offer by the university to raise salaries by 6.9 per cent after the union said it was arguing for an increase of 10 or 11 per cent over four years.

The union is also arguing for better working conditions, permanent status for teachers who are hired on contract and expanded health and dental benefits.

"We would characterize what we're doing as a very modest range of things, but it's partially about salaries and benefits," said McInnis.

"Many of our members are on contract or limited term positions — more than a third of our membership in fact — and they're quite worried about their job security. So that's an issue for that vulnerable group, but also they don't have any benefits at all, the part timers."

The St. FX Association of University Teachers would only say the university administration's offer was "below recent Atlantic university settlements and well below the cost of living."

The university administration, meanwhile, has said the union's demands have been "well beyond the university's financial capability."

All classes at St. Francis Xavier University have been cancelled for the time being.

"We got assignments ready for them, we put them into study groups, we directed them to start reading ahead so when we get back into the classroom we can pick up where we were," said Cormack.