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Strike cancels classes indefinitely at New Brunswick’s Mount Allison University

Strike cancels classes indefinitely at New Brunswick’s Mount Allison University
WATCH: Classes at Mount Allison University have been suspended until further notice as the school’s faculty and librarians headed to the picket lines on Monday. Shelley Steeves has more.

Classes were cancelled at Mount Allison University on Monday after unionized faculty and librarians went on strike.

About 150 full-time and 60 part-time members of the Mount Allison Faculty Association set up picket lines at 8:30 a.m. at the small liberal arts school in Sackville, N.B.

The job action followed the faculty association’s rejection of the university’s latest contract offer over the weekend.

“We’re not happy to be in this situation,” faculty association president Matthew Litvak said in an interview.

“We feel like we were forced to do this.”

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On Saturday, the university tabled its latest contract offer with the help of a provincially appointed mediator, but it was rejected by the faculty association’s negotiating team and its executive on Sunday. The impasse comes after seven months of talks.

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READ MORE: Labour dispute forces cancellation of classes at New Brunswick’s Mount Allison University

The faculty association said the university was “pursuing unacceptable concessions” and had failed to address issues surrounding workload, part-time job security and part-time compensation.

“We are going well beyond our normal workload to deliver the courses,” said Litvak. “We need further support from the employer vis-a-vis more faculty and more resources to be able to deliver these programs.”

The university has said that it has consistently maintained a favourable student-to-faculty ratio, despite enrolment fluctuations, and it maintains that instances where class sizes are much larger or smaller than average are not an indication of the overall workload issue.

It also maintains that full-time faculty members teach the vast majority of courses, while part-time stipends are the highest among a group of comparative universities in the region.

The strike is the second at Mount Allison in six years. Faculty walked out for three weeks in early 2014 over workload, salaries, benefits and pensions.

Litvak said that while no new talks are scheduled, he expects the sides will meet soon with the help of the mediator.

“Currently nothing’s been scheduled. We very much would like to talk and continue negotiating with the employer but they gave us a take-it-or-leave it offer.”

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Elementary teachers walk the picket line while contract negotiations resume
Elementary teachers walk the picket line while contract negotiations resume

The university’s administration responded Monday by suspending all classes for the school’s 2,100 students for the duration of the work stoppage.

In a statement, Mount Allison president Jean-Paul Boudreau said that “as much as possible” all other operations at the university would continue including access to the library.

Boudreau said a contingency plan to provide support to students is being developed and he urged them to proceed with activities as “normally as possible.”

“I am keenly aware of the need to find a path forward that balances the needs of all members of Mount Allison’s community – students, faculty, and staff,” he said.

“I am confident that both sides are committed to reaching fair collective agreements when contract negotiations resume.”

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Robert Hiscock, director of marketing and communications at Mount Allison, said it’s hoped talks can resume soon.

“It certainly is the view of the university that we would like to get back to the negotiating table soon,” said Hiscock. “I do not have a confirmed date. My understanding is both teams are reflecting … and probably will work with the mediator to organize something.”

The faculty association said in recent strike votes full-time faculty and librarians voted 74 per cent in favour of a strike while part-time faculty voted 93 per cent in favour in votes held last week.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2020.