Throw out FISH-NL application, FFAW says after labour board ruling

A new ruling is proof that FISH-NL has insufficient support to trigger a ratification vote, says union president Keith Sullivan.

Fisheries union says ruling proves insufficient support for certification vote

Keith Sullivan is president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' Union. (CBC)

The results of an investigation by the Labour Relations Board is proof that FISH-NL has insufficient support to trigger a ratification vote and its application to represent inshore fish harvesters should be dismissed, says Fish Food and Allied Workers union president Keith Sullivan.

FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary, however, says the latest development is just more "smoke and mirrors" by the FFAW. 

Sullivan issued a news release Friday saying an investigation by the provincial government board has confirmed that membership numbers presented by the FFAW are accurate.

The fisheries union provided "detailed information" to the board to support its position that it has a membership of between 9,000 and 10,000 fish harvesters.

Ryan Cleary is president of Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters, better known as FISH-NL. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

FISH-NL alleged the number was much lower: roughly 4,500.

The upstart union held a membership drive in the fall of 2016, signing up 2,372 harvesters, and argued that was enough support to force a vote to see who would represent the province's inshore sector.

But Sullivan said the board matched 9,458 names with correspondence from fish buyers to the 2015 and 2016 FFAW membership lists supplied to the board.

He said if the board accepted that every membership card provided by FISH-NL was in good order, which the FFAW believes is not the case, then FISH-NL only signed up 25.1 per cent of harvesters.

"The report presented to us by the labour board confirms that FISH-NL does not have adequate support and their application should be dismissed without delay," Sullivan was quoted as saying.

Cleary skeptical of FFAW numbers

Cleary, meanwhile, is not accepting the numbers.

He said it might be accurate that 9,000-plus harvesters sold fish in their name during the timeframe under review, but he said that does not mean they are bona fide harvesters and are entitled to cast a ballot in a ratification vote.

He believes large numbers of those on the list played a minor role in the fishery. When asked if be felt that number was in the thousands, Cleary replied: "Essentially, yeah."

He said the labour board needs to establish criteria that would make someone eligible to partake in a certification vote.

All sides in the dispute have until Wednesday to respond to the findings from the labour board, after which the board will make a decision on next steps.

It's the latest in a long-running labour dispute, with FISH-NL waging a grassroots campaign to unseat the powerful FFAW as the union representing inshore fishers.