All Unions Should Have Term Limits

I wish to reply to Barb Dean-Simmons’ article, Not all members of FFAW will get to vote for interim secretary-treasurer, published in The Telegram’s Sept. 29 edition.

Not only was the byelection to replace retired secretary-treasurer Dave Decker reserved for members of the FFAW executive, but when nominations opened, the 2,600-plus inshore harvesters who signed FISH-NL cards in the fall of 2019 were blocked from running for the office.

The FFAW executive unilaterally changed the union’s constitution (normally that’s done by the membership on the convention floor) in the spring of 2018 to prevent thousands of discontented members from running in the union’s general election that year.

Of course, there’s no way for the FFAW executive to know who signed FISH-NL cards, but after the most recent fiasco at the Labour Relations Board in which confidential union cards were sent to the employer, harvesters have zero faith in the system.

Not that they had faith before then. In the case of FISH-NL, the Labour Relations Board took almost two years to define a fisherman (anyone with a single fish sale in their name), which is still laughed at on every wharf/stage in the province.

With Decker gone, most harvesters believe the person who eventually replaced him was hand-picked by the executive.

How is it that in most democratic elections — except within the labour movement — there’s a regular turnover of elected officials. What does that tell you? Outside of former NAPE president Carol Furlong, who was replaced by Jerry Earle in 2015, I can’t think of another union leader in this province in recent times who was voted out of office.

Some say Decker’s leaving the FFAW will open the door for new blood and change, but as long as a single union has a labour monopoly over the entire Newfoundland and Labrador fishing industry (inshore/offshore/aquaculture/processing plants, etc…) and a union executive with jobs for life, no sector of the fishery will reach its potential.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association has a regular turnover of its president, but then they can only serve two, two-year terms.

From my perspective, all unions should adopt the same two-term limit, so there’s a regular flow of executive members, and to prevent empire building.

All unions should also have independent election oversight.

Until then, elections like the FFAW byelection are seen by the rank and file as yet more wharf humour.


Ryan Cleary
St. John’s, N.L.

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