No mutiny: FFAW bans all FISH-NL supporters from running in its elections

The FFAW has changed its constitution to ban anyone who signed a card with FISH-NL from running for an executive position.

More than 2,000 FFAW members will be able to vote, but not run for executive positions

FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan says members of FISH-NL shouldn't be able to run for executive positions. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC News)

All fish harvesters and processors who tried to split from Newfoundland and Labrador's only fisheries union are now banned from running for executive positions.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) has altered its constitution to require anyone running in this summer's election to sign an affidavit stating they have never signed a card with another organization.

Ryan Cleary, who led efforts to start a breakaway union called FISH-NL, said the move prevents more than 2,000 people from running against the 19 current executive members.

"They don't want anybody to run against them and they are doing this to make sure that they don't," Cleary told the Broadcast. "It is the absolute absence of democracy."

FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary says the FFAW's decision has left more than 2,000 people without the right to run for executive positions. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Keith Sullivan, president of the FFAW, said the exact opposite — that the move was made with the integrity of a democratic election at the top of mind.

"If there's people out there who are looking to tear down the organization, those people certainly cannot run for office," Sullivan said.

They don't have a right to run in union elections if they expressed any dissent.- Ryan Cleary

When asked how it can be considered democratic if certain people are barred from running, Sullivan said those who signed cards with FISH-NL are still welcome to vote for and nominate other people.

"We invite healthy debate and that's what our organization is certainly built on," he said. "And we encourage people who want to build up this union and make it better to come out and run."

But not if you supported the FISH-NL movement.

Short on cards, but fighting continues

The province's labour board has said the breakaway group fell short of receiving enough signatures to force a vote, which would have let fish harvesters decide if they wanted to ratify it as a union.

FISH-NL rallied 2,372 harvesters, while the FFAW came up with 9,458 names.

Cleary says some of the people who signed cards with FISH-NL were not full supporters, but people who just wanted to push the envelope and force a vote.

"They don't have any rights," he said. 

"They are the most controlled labour group in the free world. They don't have a pension, they don't have benefits, they don't have right to strike, they don't have a choice, they don't have a free market, and now they can add to that list they don't have a right to run in union elections if they expressed any dissent."

Don't like our constitution, don't run

Sullivan, meanwhile, said it would be disingenuous of someone to run for an FFAW executive role if they had supported a group that wanted to break away from the union.

"How could a FISH-NL member put their name forward to run when their ultimate goal is to totally tear down the organization?"

Cleary said there was no mutiny planned — he had no intention of running for Sullivan's job, nor has anyone he's spoken with about the FFAW election coming up this summer, he said.

Sullivan, meanwhile, hopes to see a more united FFAW after the election this summer.

"There's been a movement to divide and pit worker against worker. We operate much better when we're united."