Start-up Union In the Process of Signing Up Members
The Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters (FISH-NL) officially became a labour organization at a founding convention in Gander October 27 — now the real work begins.
The breakaway fishermen’s organization, lead by newly elected president Ryan Cleary, started officially dispersing union cards November 1. FISH-NL has been granted six weeks by Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Board to conduct its membership drive — which is basically aimed at convincing enough fishermen to pay a $5 membership fee and sign a union card to cut ties with the long-standing Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union.
About 130 harvesters gathered in Gander recently to elect a union executive and ratify an official constitution. In order for FISH-NL to have any chance of forming a new union exclusively for the province’s harvesters, it needs at least 50 per cent, plus one, of the FFAW’s fishermen to sign cards to join the new organization. The up-start organization said it has more than 9,000 union cards distributed to date around Newfoundland and Labrador by roughly 100 volunteers.
“I’ve never seen the unrest as widespread as it is today. It’s in every corner of the province,” Cleary said in his opening address. “It’s now or never.”
On Nov. 7, FISH-NL announced the first leg of a provincial membership tour, with stops in Labrador, Northern Peninsula and western areas of the province.
“We have 15 formal meetings scheduled with fish harvesters from Port Hope Simpson, Labrador to Burgeo, Newfoundland, but we’ll be looking to meet fish harvesters wherever they gather — on the wharves or stages, in their kitchens and community halls,” Cleary said.
“There’s an electricity today in Newfoundland and Labrador, a stirring on the wharves and stages, in the coves and harbours that hasn’t been felt in modern times,” Cleary said.
“Fish harvesters are taking a last stand for a fishing industry that has been brutalized by decades of failed management and poor leadership. The salt and pepper revolution is a fight for N.L.’s most endangered species — fishermen and women.”
However, the union drive did not exactly get off on the right foot. On only the second day of the drive, the FFAW-Unifor issued a press release calling on Ryan Cleary and FISH-NL to immediately cease all threats of violence and personal harm against FFAW members and staff.
In addition, FFAW-Unifor said it had filed a complaint with the Grand Bank Detachment of the RCMP following a union meeting on November 1 in Fortune.
During that meeting representatives of FISH-NL made numerous threats of violence and physical harm, the union claimed — in addition to online threats against the FFAW suggesting union representatives should be “in front of a firing squad.”
“We take these threats of violence and intimidation very seriously,” said FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan. “It is totally unacceptable and even more unacceptable for Mr. Cleary and FISH-NL to be condoning such behaviour.”
More fireworks and accusations are sure to follow FISH-NL six-week campaign as the FFAW is sure to mount a defense to protect its current members.
Sullivan has said his members are worried by an attempt to de-certify the union.
“The message I am getting from the members is that we are not going to sit back and watch 45 years of progress and hard work by thousands and thousands of members be just torn apart,” Sullivan told CBC’s Central Morning Show.
This “David versus Goliath challenge” started in September when the newly formed group started gauging interest in a new union that would represent Newfoundland and Labrador fish harvesters, breaking away from the long-standing FFAW.
The charge was lead by former Member of Parliament Cleary, well-known fishermen Richard Gillett of Twillingate and Jason Sullivan, a harvester and town councillor from Bay Bulls.
FISH-NL now has an official constitution and elected executive. Joining Cleary on the executive are Vice-President Richard Gillett, Johanna Ryan-Guy, Secretary Treasurer, Jason Sullivan, Captain of the Under-40-foot vessel fleet and Boyd Lavers, Captain of the Over-40-foot vessel fleet.
Ryan explained that FISH-NL is different than the FFAW — and said the differences are spelled out in the organization’s new statement of principles:
- FISH-NL will be Transparent: All revenue, expenditures, and salaries must be available to the membership.
- FISH-NL will be built on Consultation: the union must abide by the wishes of the membership. Not the other way around.
- FISH-NL is for Fish Harvesters First: FISH-NL’s raison d’être now and forever more is fish harvesters first. Period.
- FISH-NL must hold the Government of Canada to account for its fisheries management, science, and enforcement responsibilities as outlined by the Terms of Union.
- FISH-NL must use the principles of Adjacency and Historical Attachment to fight for ALL fish resources off Newfoundland and Labrador. (Ottawa cited these principles as reason for its recent decision re LIFO; now the feds must recognize those principles in terms of all fish resources of the province’s shores.)
Ryan said before the union drive is over in mid-December, it is his plan to travel to all corners of the province in an effort to sign up as many members as possible.
Once the six-week drive is concluded, the cards will be submitted to the Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Board for review. Those in attendance at the founding meeting in Gander were told if the required 50 per cent, plus one of harvesters signed cards and there were no objections, FISH-NL could be certified as the official bargaining unit for harvesters as early as January 2017. But Cleary said it is probably not going to be that easy, as he expects the FFAW to fight the process at every turn — even possibly requesting that every union card be scrutinized.