Nfld. & Labrador

'It was overdue,' says 1st female elected as FFAW vice-president

Doretta Strickland made union history in 2018. Now, she reflects on her first year and what work the union still needs to do.

Doretta Strickland reflects on first year on executive board

Doretta Strickland's election as FFAW vice-president in 2018 was the first for a woman in the union's history. (FFAW/Twitter)

It's been a year of learning, lobbying and making history for Doretta Strickland, the first woman ever elected as a vice-president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union in its near half-century of existence.

"I thought it was overdue for a woman to bring their perspective to the FFAW," said Strickland, who became the union's vice-president of its industrial, retail and offshore sectors in August 2018.

"It was time for a woman. I think people realized that."

Strickland said a flood of female support helped propel her to the position. The FFAW says 30 per cent of its approximately 15,000 members are female, with women making up about 24 per cent of fish harvesters and 45 per cent of its industrial sector members.

So far, Strickland said the executive council — on which four other women also sit, in junior positions — has proved to be a positive experience.

"We are all equal on that executive board. We all get a chance to speak," she said, adding the FFAW supports women in positions like the one she's in now.

'A force to be reckoned with'

Strickland, from Triton, has worked in fish plants and has a long history of union involvement at the local level. As vice-president, she's currently fighting for processing plant workers to get their own safety council to address concerns such as shellfish occupational asthma.

That condition is caused by exposure to airborne matter generated during shellfish processing, and can cause breathing problems, rashes and red eyes. She said it mostly affects women as they make up the majority of plant workers.

"They got trouble breathing, they got trouble sleeping at night. You're tired, you don't have the energy to even eat your supper when you get home at night," she said.

I believe we should all work together.- Doretta Strickland

She has also taken part in recent union meetings aimed specifically at female FFAW members, and is using her leadership position to encourage other women to put their names forward.

"We're a force to be reckoned with,"

Strickland opposes the challenge the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters is attempting to make to the province's union landscape.

FISH-NL is in the midst of a membership drive to attract enough support to challenge the FFAW to represent the province's inshore harvesters. The FFAW currently represents those harvesters, as well as fish plant workers and other sectors.

Strickland said she believes in co-operation, rather than division.

"I believe that we should all work together, because if we're all together, we get things done," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning