Provincial government appoints special mediator to help bring end to Mount A strike

Katie Tower
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The province has appointed a special mediator to help resolve the ongoing labour dispute at Mount Allison, now in its third week.

SACKVILLE, N.B. – With talks still at an impasse, the provincial government has stepped in this week to try and bring an end to the strike at Mount Allison University.

Minister of Post-Secondary Education Jody Carr announced on Monday that the province has appointed a special mediator to help resolve the ongoing labour dispute at Mount Allison, now in its third week.

“We encourage the parties to work this out . . . to take advantage of this opportunity to try and reach a settlement,” said Carr.

The mediator appointed to the case is Larry Steinberg – a mediator, arbitrator and a leading Canadian labour lawyer. Steinberg will meet with the Mount Allison administration and the faculty association (MAFA) on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

“This special appointment directs both parties to return to the bargaining table and highlights a new level of urgency to the process,” said Carr.

The administration and the union have been in the midst of negotiating a new collective agreement since last summer. Carr said the provincial government has provided both parties with tools under the Industrial Relations Act – including a conciliation officer and a mediation officer – to reach this goal.

However, an agreement was still not able to be reached, and the union exercised its right to strike and walked off the job on Jan. 27. Last week the parties met again with the government-appointed mediation officer; however, they were unable to reach a resolution.

“This is the next step up,” said Carr of the special mediator.

Steinberg’s role will be to confer with the parties and try to reach a collective agreement. As special mediator, he has the power to summon witnesses, require them to give evidence under oath and produce documents for a full investigation into matters. He can also enforce the attendance of witnesses and compel them to give evidence as is vested in any court of record in civil cases. No person is allowed to refuse to answer an interrogation or obstruct the work of the mediator.

Unlike a regular mediation officer, said Carr, the special mediator will have “increased authority to confer with the parties as they endeavor to reach an agreement.”

“This week, we’re giving them another chance. We hope they’ll use these two days to end this strike and come to some sort of resolution.“

He said although it is hoped that an agreement will be reached within the two days, the talks could extend into the weekend “if progress is being made.”

Carr said he has decided to intervene at this point in the strike because he recognizes the frustration of not only the faculty and the administration but of the students and parents, who are concerned their education may be at risk.

“As a government, our priority is, and will continue to be, to see students finish their term with the least amount of disruption possible, while continuing to respect the collective bargaining process.”

This latest move by the provincial government comes following last week’s round of negotiations, which once again came to a stalemate, with the university administration proposing to settle the contract through binding arbitration and the faculty refusing that suggestion, calling for a special out-of-province mediator.

Faculty association president Loralea Michaelis said on the weekend, "MAFA believes in free collective bargaining. The best collective agreements are reached at the bargaining table, by negotiating.”

Karen Grant, the university's vice-president of academic and research, said the administration was recommending binding arbitration in an effort to see students get back to class this week.

“After more than seven months of negotiations, it is apparent that some further step must be taken for the parties to come to an agreement,” she said on Sunday. “Binding arbitration would have resulted in an agreement and, most importantly, students would not have missed any more class time.”

The Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) even took a stance on the weekend to try to bring an end to the labour dispute and get students back into the classroom. Despite trying to remain neutral during the labour dispute, the students’ union announced on Sunday it supported the introduction of a special mediator, as requested by the Mount Allison Faculty Association on the weekend, but on condition of an immediate return to class.

“While we hoped a fair contract could have been agreed on without disrupting classes, this has not been the case,” said MASU vice-president of academic affairs Ryan Harley. “We cannot ignore the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty surrounding the remainder of our semester.”

In a statement issued on Monday following the Minister’s announcement, Grant said the university remains disappointed that students are not able to return to class yet.

“However, we are ready to take this next step in the process toward achieving new collective agreements,” she stated. “It is our hope that special mediation will help the parties reach new collective agreements quickly, so that our students can get back to class as soon as possible.”

Carr said he hopes for the same thing.

"Our preference is that an agreement can be reached by both parties working together at the bargaining table. That's when all parties are successful and reach the best outcome," Carr said.



Organizations: Mount Allison University, Mount Allison Faculty Association

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