Nfld. & Labrador

FISH-NL's union status upheld by Supreme Court

Justice Donald Burrage has sided with the splinter union, dismissing an FFAW appeal.

Justice Donald Burrage sides with splinter union, dismisses FFAW's appeal of labour board decision

FISH-NL's union certification has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador. (John Pike/CBC)

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador has upheld the status of an upstart fish harvester's union, dismissing a challenge to its legitimacy from the larger and long-established Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union.

In a ruling released Wednesday, Justice Donald Burrage wrote that the labour relations board's prior decision, given on Feb. 21, 2017 — that the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador is a properly constituted association under provincial legislation — was a reasonable one.

In the leadup to the board's decision, the FFAW argued the splinter group FISH-NL was not an association as defined under the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act, and so shouldn't be eligible for certification at all.

A majority of the Labour Relations Board disagreed, and determined that the term "association" can be used interchangeably with "union" in the Labour Relations Act.

In January 2018, the FFAW appealed the board's decision to the Supreme Court.

Guideline, not requirement

The FFAW previously argued FISH-NL had violated two criteria in a five-step test that determines union viability, and so could not be defined an association: first, that the FISH-NL constitution did not state its purpose was for collective bargaining between fishers and processors, and secondly that its members signed up after its founding convention, not during.

FISH-NL said those arguments were based on technicalities, and Burrage agreed in his decision, noting that while the five steps outline the way unions can be formed, they're meant as a guideline and not a requirement.

Burrage dismissed the FFAW's appeal of the labour board's decision, and ordered the union to pay FISH-NL's legal costs.

In September, the labour board dismissed FISH-NL's application for certification, determining that the new union was not big enough to replace the FFAW as the provincial bargaining unit.

FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary says a second membership drive and application is planned for this year.

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