FISH-NL calling on labour board to shed thousands from FFAW list

Despite sitting around the same table at a groundbreaking meeting today, there's still no end in sight to the drawn-out labour battle between Fish-NL and the FFAW.

Fisheries union says Ryan Cleary has bitten off more than he can chew, application should be dismissed

Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters (FISH-NL) president Ryan Cleary (second from left) is pictured here with union supporters Richard Gillett (left), Harvey Jarvis and Peter Leonard (right). (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters (FISH-NL) is arguing that the ranks of inshore harvesters in the province's fisheries union is swollen to nearly twice its actual size by individuals with no serious connection to the industry.

As a result, it wants the labour relations board to strip thousands of card-carrying members of their right to vote in any certification process.

"Everybody who pays dues is not a harvester," FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary told reporters.

Cleary made the comment following a rare meeting with officials from the provincial labour relations board in St. John's, and it's being viewed by the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' union (FFAW) as another desperate move by FISH-NL.

"We believe this is an application that is really deserving of no further processes," FFAW lawyer Tom Johnson said.

No major breakthrough

FISH-NL is an upstart union led by Cleary and a faction of outspoken harvesters that's been locked in a long-running battle with the powerful FFAW for the right to serve as bargaining agent for inshore fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The labour board has been reviewing FISH-NL's application for certification for the past 16 months, with CEO Glenn Branton stating in an email Tuesday that the board will not be commenting while the process is underway.

Lawyer Tom Johnson spoke on behalf of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' union (FFAW) following a meeting with the labour relations board in St. John's on Tuesday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Both groups were summoned to a meeting with the labour board on Tuesday, and emerged nearly two hours later without any major breakthrough in the process.

The FFAW scoffed at Cleary's position, with Johnson saying, "It would leave thousands and thousands of people on the sidelines who would not be represented by a trade union, and I think that that would be surprising to those thousands of people."

An investigation by the labour board determined that just under 9,500 individuals paid union dues to the FFAW and had their names connected to seafood sales to fish buyers in 2015 and 2016.

But FISH-NL is challenging that number, and believes individuals should generate 75 per cent of their income from the fishery during the fishing season in order to be classified as "bona fide" harvester with voting rights.

FISH-NL believes the actual number is closer to 4,500.

We just want bona fide, full-time boots on the deck harvesters to participate in a vote.- Ryan Cleary

"We just want bona fide, full-time boots on the deck harvesters to participate in a vote," said Cleary.

No assurances given by labour board

Cleary said the labour board has the authority to determine who is eligible to vote, but said he was given no assurance Tuesday that the definition of a harvester would be reviewed.

Cleary's argument is critical to his efforts to trigger a certification vote.

FISH-NL signed up 2,372 fish harvesters during a membership drive in 2016, which is about one-quarter of the number of card-carrying FFAW harvesters, and well below the threshold required by the labour board to trigger a vote.

Johnson said the definition of a harvester is well defined in the Fishing Industry Collective Agreement Act, and accused FISH-NL of trying to invent a tailor-made definition in order to further their agenda.

'The notion that we would then somehow turn our backs on thousands of people and pretend that they don't exist … is just not  tenable."- FFAW lawyer Tom Johnson

"The notion that we would then somehow turn our backs on thousands of people and pretend that they don't exist, and are not legitimate under the province's legislation, to us is just not  tenable," Johnson said.​

Meanwhile, Cleary announced Tuesday that FISH-NL is launching a GoFundMe campaign in order to carry on its fight against the FFAW.

"We're going to call on the Newfoundland and Labrador inshore harvesters to once again to stand up for what's right," he said.

About the Author

Terry Roberts

CBC News

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.