Above photo: From left; Peter Leonard, Ryan Cleary and Jason Sullivan
FFAW States Number Far Below Total Needed to Trigger a Certification Vote
The future of the inshore fish harvesting labour movement in Newfoundland and Labrador is now in the hands of that province’s Labour Relations Board.
Since its inception in September of last year, the up-start Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters or FISH-NL has been leading a boisterous campaign to break away from the established Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) and represent inshore harvesters exclusively.
On December 30, FISH-NL presented an application to the Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Board requesting that the organization be certified as the new bargaining agent for inshore fish harvesters.
The application included membership cards signed by harvesters from more than 300 communities around the province.
“We feel we have the support of more than 50 per cent of all inshore harvesters — we certainly had the support of more than 80 per cent of all harvesters we encountered,” said Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL. However, he would not disclose the actual number of signed cards at the time, causing an immediate reaction from the FFAW.
Dave Decker, the union’s secretary-treasurer, said FISH-NL’s refusal to release the number of signed union cards was a clear indication the organization to did not garner enough support to trigger a certification vote.
However, on January 9, FISH-NL released further details of its certification application filed with the Labour Relations Board, including the total number of fish harvesters that actually had signed on.
“A total of 2,372 harvesters from more than 300 Newfoundland and Labrador communities signed FISH-NL cards over our two-month membership drive,” Cleary said. “From all indications that number represents well over 50 per cent of all inshore fish harvesters.”
A federal Access to Information Act request filed this past September with Employment and Social Development Canada revealed that 6,354 Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters were in receipt of fishing EI last February, the most of any month in 2015, Cleary explained.
Most harvesters file employment insurance claims, the total number of which is seen as a strong indicator of the total number of harvesters, FISH-NL explained in a press release. But the fishing EI claims also include offshore trawlermen, who won’t be represented by FISH-NL and their number must be subtracted.
“This has been a guessing game from the start,” Cleary said, “from the total number of inshore fish harvesters in the province to who they are and where they live, we’ve been working with our hands tied behind our back from the start and we’ve still gotten the job done.”
“FISH-NL has also heard from harvesters who’ve been threatened and intimidated by the FFAW against signing FISH-NL cards,” said Cleary. “As well, some harvesters who are tied to fish processors through financial agreements say they were advised not to sign membership cards. Those are the kind of odds we’ve been working against.”
Once the actual number of cards was made public, the FFAW did not wait long to weigh in.
In a release of its own, the FFAW-Unifor said, as anticipated, Cleary did not obtain nearly enough of the support required to represent the bargaining unit.
“Ryan Cleary and his group have taken advantage of a time of transition in our fishery and are preying on harvesters who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of that transition by making promises without any plan to back them up,” said FFAW President Keith Sullivan.
“The numbers are now public and it is clear FISH-NL does not have adequate support.”
The Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board, the provincial body that operates and maintains a fish harvester registration system, has publicly stated that the number of fish harvesters eligible for certification in 2016 is 10,995, explained the FFAW. Consistent with those figures, FFAW-Unifor’s membership database accounts for 10,200 active, dues-paying members who are inshore harvesters, it added.
Regarding the cards submitted to the Labour Relations Board, FFAW-Unifor said it will be raising serious concerns related to fraudulent and tainted cards and the manner by which signatures were obtained.
Sullivan said in FISH-NL’s view of the fishery, more than 4,000 inshore harvesters do not count and their numbers misrepresent the industry and discount the many good jobs that exist in the fishery.
“Ryan Cleary and his group have spent the last five months trying to divide harvesters and have damaged the industry in the process. Now we must move forward, with the best interests of harvesters in mind and work to undo the damage he’s done,” Sullivan added.
FISH-NL has hired well-known St. John’s lawyer David Goodland to represent the organization’s certification application currently before the Labour Relations Board.
“David’s one of the best labour lawyers in the province and we couldn’t be more pleased to have him aboard,” Cleary said. “He has a proven track record, most recently having successfully represented scallop fishermen in the Strait of Belle Isle in their case against the FFAW.”
Last March, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled in favour of 76 scallop fishermen who took the FFAW to court over a compensation fund for lost fishing grounds related to installation of an undersea cable needed to bring Muskrat Falls power to the island.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Board was expected to release copies of FISH-NL’s certification application. Once the application was released, the FFAW and fish processors would have 10 calendar days to respond. In turn, FISH-NL would have five calendar days to respond.
The Labour Relations Board will then conduct an investigation of the application and the membership cards, a process that could take weeks or months. Once that investigation is complete and a report is issued, FISH-NL will have two days to respond before the final report is released.