Nfld. & Labrador

Arnold's Cove plant workers indifferent to possible FFAW fracture

Are unionized workers in the province's seafood processing sector worried about a possible break-up of the FFAW? Well, it's hardly a topic of lunchroom conversation at the cod plant in Arnold's Cove.

Workers at Icewater Seafoods more interested in a good day's work than union power struggle

Here's a view of the production line at the Icewater Seafoods cod plant in Arnold's Cove. The company employees more than 200 people for more than six months of the year. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

It's break time at the Icewater Seafoods Inc. cod processing plant in Arnold's Cove and there's plenty of chatter among workers, but it's hard to find a conversation about the possible break-up of their union.

"Nah. I don't think so. Not me," said Kain Carter, when asked if he's worried about efforts by a splinter group led by former politician and journalist Ryan Cleary to break away from the Fish, Food and Allied Workers and form a new union, one just for harvesters.

Patsy Hepditch doesn't know much about the issue, and like Carter, doesn't have much to say on the subject.

"I haven't given it much thought," she said.

Mixed views emerge

Indeed, it's tough to get an opinion from any of the workers.

Most turn away from the reporter — and his camera — that invaded their lunchroom.

Clarence Barrett is an employee with Icewater Seafoods Inc. in Arnold's Cove who supports the idea of a fisheries union that represents both harvesters and plantworkers. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

But some eventually break their silence, and the opinions are mixed.

"Fishermen are not pleased with the FFAW, but we got no trouble with them," said Clarence Barrett.

"Not a thing in the world. That's all I know."

Gus Whiffen doesn't like the idea of fracturing the union, saying a united union is stronger and more beneficial for workers.

"I think it's going to be tough if we (separate)," said Whiffen. "We won't get nothing."

Icewater Seafoods employee Frank Warren is not against the formation of a separate union exlusively for fish harvesters. He believes the current arrangement, with the FFAW representing both plant workers and fish harvesters, is a conflict of interest. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Others agreed that having a union representing both harvesters and processors is a problem.

"Over the years there's always been a conflict of interest there with the plantworkers and the fishermen," said Frank Warren, "so (a separate union for harvesters) might be to our benefit. If the money's there, I guess we'll be alright."

Looking to the future

Workers at this plant would rather focus their efforts on all the cod that is flowing through the processing line these days.

It's the only seafood plant in North America dedicated exclusively to the processing of North Atlantic cod, supplying markets in Europe.

The plant operates more than six months of the year, and could be going longer if not for the limited supply of raw material.

Cod is seen being conveyed onto the processing line at the Icewater Seafoods plant in Arnold's Cove. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

There's more than 200 workers at Icewater, where they earn wages that start at more than $15 an hour.

That's more than most jobs in the service industry pay, but it's no secret that harvesters, in general, have higher incomes than plantworkers.

You won't find any qualms about that at Icewater, where workers are grateful for the work.

It's been another good year and the workers are looking forward to many more as the cod stocks rebound, regardless of what union is representing fishermen.

"They got a wicked plant here that's processing like crazy," said Carter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Roberts is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and is based in St. John’s. He previously worked for The Telegram, The Compass and The Northern Pen newspapers during a career that began in 1991. He can be reached by email at: Terry.Roberts@cbc.ca.

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