02/10/2014 02:24 EST | Updated 04/12/2014 05:59 EDT

New Brunswick names mediator in bid to end Mount Allison University strike

FREDERICTON - The New Brunswick government is directing both sides in a strike at Mount Allison University to resume collective bargaining with the help of a special mediator.

Toronto-based lawyer Larry Steinberg will meet with the two sides Wednesday and Thursday in an effort to resolve the strike at the school in Sackville, which began Jan. 27.

As special mediator, Steinberg has the authority to summon witnesses, require them to give evidence under oath and produce documents.

"This intervention demonstrates that the provincial government is actively trying to help the parties and at the same time without interfering in the collective bargaining process," Post-secondary Education Minister Jody Carr said Monday.

The Mount Allison Faculty Association, which represents 154 full-time and 56 part-time faculty and librarians, says pay, pensions and benefits are at the centre of the dispute.

The school has said it presented contract proposals that are consistent with recent collective agreements at other universities. It has called on the union to accept its offer to enter into binding arbitration, something the striking workers have already rejected.

A government-appointed mediator was brought into the negotiations last week, but to no avail, Carr said.

There are few options left for the government if the special mediator is unable to help reach an agreement, he said, adding that back-to-work legislation would be a last resort.

University vice-president Karen Grant said the school welcomes the talks through the special mediator.

"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," she said in a statement.

Mount Allison has 2,400 students.

Academic staff at the University of New Brunswick returned to work last week following a three-week strike that was resolved after the government ordered the two sides back to the bargaining table with the help of a special mediator.