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Editorial: Fish or cut bait

FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary speaks Thursday morning during a news conference held by FISH-NL at its downtown St. John’s office, while FISH-NL vice-president Richard Gillett of Twillingate looks on.
FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary speaks during a news conference in St. John’s, as Richard Gillett of Twillingate looks. — Telegram file photo

For FISH-NL’s president, Ryan Cleary, the situation is a simple one: the province’s Labour Relations Board did not agree with his group’s call for a formal vote to take members from the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, so it’s back to the drawing board.

“The opportunity is to do it again right now,” Cleary told the CBC. “We know the rules of the game now, which is, again, anybody with a connection, with a fish sale in their name, is a fisherman. We know the number we have to get. Everything is clear.”

But as with most things, the facts are a little more nuanced.

The decision by the Labour Relations Board was not as simple as setting the rules.

Look at just part of the decision.

The FFAW argued the bargaining unit has 10,000 members, while FISH-NL argued that the real number of working fishers should only be 4,500 — a number that meant the 2,372 union cards signed by FISH-NL supporters would be enough to call for a formal vote.

“It is not clear why FISH-NL vastly underestimated the approximate number of existing bargaining unit members or why FISH-NL failed to acknowledge it had done so during the board’s ongoing investigation,” the board wrote.

The labour board ordered FISH-NL to provide a list of its members — FISH-NL didn’t provide that information. The board then asked FISH-NL to show why it thought there were only 4,500 members of the bargaining unit. The board concluded, “FISH-NL was unable to provide any basis, rationale or evidence for its conclusion that there were approximately 4,500 fishers in the existing bargaining unit.”

The FFAW did provide a membership list, and a review of their list was found by a board review to be “reliable, with a very low number of possible individuals whose membership in the FFAW could be questioned.”

But the board didn’t stop there.

“Based on the lack of information from FISH-NL” and the fact that the Association of Seafood Producers said it didn’t keep a list of commercial inshore harvesters, the labour board was forced to do its own extensive investigation to see how many members there actually were in the bargaining unit. That investigation found the numbers, taking both 2015 and 2016 into account, would be 9,458 members.

“It is not clear why FISH-NL vastly underestimated the approximate number of existing bargaining unit members or why FISH-NL failed to acknowledge it had done so during the board’s ongoing investigation,” the board wrote.

In a move that might be hilarious if it hadn’t already caused an expensive investigation, FISH-NL also argued there should be a vote because the process had taken so long. The board ruled, “the delay in processing this application is directly attributable to the conduct of FISH-NL itself.”

The question isn’t whether Cleary wants a do-over.

The question is whether the members who signed cards, and bankrolled the fledgling group with thousands of dollars of donated money, are satisfied with what FISH-NL did — and didn’t do — on their behalf.

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