Three days of negotiations fail to produce agreement

Negotiations to end the faculty strike at Mount Allison University reached a new low of productivity last week, after three days of negotiations between faculty and administration ended in a war of words over how to break the stalemate—effectively a disagreement on how best to disagree.

Three days of negotiations from Feb. 5 to 7 between the Mount Allison University administration and the Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) failed to produce a deal. Classrooms will remain empty today, despite the hopes of students.

Meanwhile, the students’ union had also entered the fray, releasing its own proposal Sunday for reconciliation—and asking faculty to head back to class.

Both the administration and the faculty association continue to blame the inflexibility of the other side for the current impasse. No further negotiations have been scheduled at this time.

The administration has proposed binding arbitration as a means of resolving the labour dispute. An email sent to students and press from Karen Grant, Mt. A’s vice-president academic, said they proposed the establishment of an arbitration board. Arbitration boards have a member appointed and paid for by each side, while the chair must be accepted by both parties. The faculty association rejected the proposal.

“Binding arbitration would have resulted in an agreement an, most importantly, students would not have missed any more class time,” Grant wrote in the administration’s press release.

“What we’re trying to do is get our students back in class, and the best and most direct way to do that is binding arbitration,” Grant said at a Feb. 9 press conference.

MAFA President Loralea Michaelis said the union would never voluntarily agree to binding arbitration, as it “undercuts the very principle of the union as a democratic association, and severely impairs the collective bargaining process.”

MAFA’s members would not be able to vote on the ratification of a new collective agreement if negotiations were delegated to an arbitration board—they can, if a settlement is negotiated.

MAFA is seeking an agreement that is “negotiated rather than imposed,” Michaelis said.

The faculty association is instead asking for the appointment of a special mediator. Such a mediator is generally a professional expert appointed from outside the province. The two parties had recently been meeting with a provincial mediator who works for the ministry of labour.

Michaelis suggested working with a special mediator would actually help reach a collective agreement faster than binding arbitration. While arbitration “could get students back in the classroom, […] it would leave the faculty without a contract for another indefinite period, because arbitration panels [can be] long drawn out processes, depending on the complexity of the issues. Members would have no assurance of what their terms and conditions would be,” Michaelis told The Argosy.

“[The appointment of a special mediator] helped at [the University of New Brunswick] and we think it can help at Mount Allison,” Michaelis said, in a Feb. 7 press release.

During the third week of the recent labour dispute at the University of New Brunswick, the provincial government ordered the faculty association and the administration back to the table with a mediator. A settlement was reached within two days.

Michaelis said the faculty association issued a formal proposal listing five professional mediators they would be willing to work with. One of those mediators was available as early as Tuesday, Feb. 11. The university has not responded to this proposal.

“We have been working diligently over the weekend to identify the availability of various mediators, and we are keen to get started on that process as soon as we can,” Michaelis said.

At a press conference Feb. 9, Mt. A Vice-President Karen Grant said the administration’s offer of binding arbitration remains open. She also said that the administration would only be willing to meet with a special mediator if MAFA abandons the strike.

Michaelis said the faculty association will continue striking until a tentative agreement is reached.

The Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) announced Sunday evening that they are endorsing the appointment of a special mediator, with the stipulation that MAFA calls off the strike and students return to class.

Ryan Harley, MASU’s vice-president academic affairs, said the students’ union is not siding with either negotiating party, but is instead “taking a stance on what course of action or process is in the best interest of our membership.”

Harley said MASU considers this arrangement “the most feasible and realistic option.” He added that MASU supports this arrangement because it will allow students to return to class, while also facilitating a fair agreement for faculty.

“We feel as though the expertise of the special mediator will produce the fairest contract [for faculty], which in turn is in the best interest of our membership,” Harley said.

“We feel as though that expertise will stand whether we are in class or not,” he added.

“First and foremost, we want our membership back in class.”

Harley said MASU sees this process the final opportunity for both parties to resolve the dispute amongst themselves between before government intervention would be necessary.

“[W]e have no fear in asking for government intervention if we think it is necessary to get our students back to class,” said MASU President Melissa O’Rourke.

Updated Monday, Feb. 10: References to “conciliation” were removed from this article and replaced with more accurate phrasing. “Conciliation” refers to third-party assistance in collective bargaining with the intention of avoiding job action.

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