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Status of FISH-NL now with Labour Relations Board

Ryan Cleary, president of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), heads into the province’s Labour Board offices at Crosbie Place on Friday morning with a crateful of FISH-NL union cards signed by fishermen from across the province.
Ryan Cleary, president of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), heads into the province’s Labour Board offices at Crosbie Place on Friday morning with a crateful of FISH-NL union cards signed by fishermen from across the province.

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) applied to the Labour Relations Board Friday morning for an official vote for certification as a trade union.

FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary, with harvester Jason Sullivan, delivered their box of application materials, before holding a news conference at the FISH-NL office off Job Street in St. John’s.

Sitting with fish harvester and FISH-NL supporter Peter Leonard, the trio said they are confident they have provided the board with enough valid membership cards from inshore fish harvesters to trigger a vote.

At the same time, they would not provide the number of their official supporters.

It is now up to the board to determine whether or not FISH-NL has met its required mark.

Triggering a vote on a new union will require the board to confirm FISH-NL has a minimum of 40 per cent of all certified fish harvesters. Cleary said the application includes more than 50 per cent, but would reveal nothing further about numbers.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW-Unifor) currently represents the inshore fish harvesters targeted in the FISH-NL recruitment drive. Representatives of the union said the latest numbers from the Fish Harvesters’ Certification Board show about 10,800 harvesters in the province, and they don’t believe FISH-NL has the numbers needed.

Accusations of misconduct were leveled on both sides.

“We’ve been getting messages from just as recently as yesterday from people that are retired like two or three years, husband and wife, that are getting letters all of a sudden from the FFAW. So we’re pretty concerned they’re padding their numbers (of harvesters),” Sullivan said. “We know they’ve been contacting people that actually died while fishing and stuff, contacted widows and stuff, sending letters, so we know that their numbers are going to be inflated. Once we get their list, we’ve got to go through it and see who’s actually alive, who’s not retired, who’s actually a fisherman.”

Cleary and Sullivan said FISH-NL was never given access to a list of inshore harvesters — and was actually refused access by the provincial certification board — and claimed the FFAW-Unifor has been working with that board to bump up the numbers to assure FISH-NL is not certified as a union.

The FFAW-Unifor’s David Decker told The Telegram the numbers of harvesters, when looked at over multiple years, will be enough evidence to refute those claims.

On the other hand, he claimed the FFAW-Unifor has evidence of FISH-NL pumping up its numbers.

“There are clearly incidents of fraudulent and tainted cards that we will be presenting (as) evidence before the board,” Decker said.

Neither side has provided individual names for followup, or any related evidence to the media.

FISH-NL’s application to the Labour Relations Board is an application to represent all inshore fish harvesters. Cleary said there was legal advice suggesting breaking up into specific areas might be an option, but the organization ultimately decided against that approach.

“Win, lose or draw, after this the harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador have gotten a victory,” said Leonard, who made it clear longstanding issues of some harvesters with the FFAW-Unifor will not be left alone or kept quiet.

Cleary said FISH-NL has raised about $38,000 (mostly from donations) and will continue regardless of the outcome, even if it does not win trade union status and bargaining rights.

Decker said the FFAW-Unifor did not provide a list of harveter names to the FISH-NL leadership because it did not want to encourage the group.

“The issue here is we’ve got a union to run and lots of work to do and certainly not facilitating raids on the organization,” he said.

At the same time, the issues raised throughout FISH-NL’s 47-meeting recruitment drive and the general challenge to union leadership have not gone without some reflection.

When it comes to meetings with members around the province, Decker said there are regular meetings, but FFAW-Unifor is also “trying to up our game at that.”

Decker said the union has committed to improving the availability and communication of information for members, with increasing use of email, social media and the union website.

As for the possibility FISH-NL might get its vote, the FFAW-Unifor rep said he doesn’t see it happening and the union— like everyone else — is waiting on the results from the Labour Relations Board.

“I just can only hope it is a speedy process,” he said.

 

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

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