FFAW charges breakaway group could hurt fish harvesters

Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union president Keith Sullivan says breakway FISH-NL group could benefit offshore fishing companies at the expense of members.

Keith Sullivan says union will not allow 45 years of progress be torn apart

Keith Sullivan, president of the FFAW, thinks a breakway group hoping to start a union could hinder rather than help fish harvesters in the province. (CBC)

The president of Newfoundland and Labrador's fisheries union says a breakaway group of harvesters could hurt, rather than help, their cause.

Keith Sullivan of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union says his members are worried by an attempt to de-certify the union.

"The message I am getting from the members is that we are not going to sit back and watch 45 years of progress and hard work by thousands and thousand of members be just torn apart," Sullivan told CBC's Central Morning Show Monday.

We are not going to sit back and watch 45 years of progress and hard work ... be just torn apart.- Keith Sullivan, FFAW

He said the Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters (FISH-NL), led by former journalist and member of parliament Ryan Cleary, has no real plan as to how to proceed.

Sullivan acknowledges there are problems in the fishery, but the FFAW will continue to provide effective representation for its members.

"There are challenges in the fishery, legitimate challenges that we certainly have to deal with. We always do, we take them head on."

Sullivan cited the abolition of the Department of Fisheries and Ocean's 'last in/first out' policy and the union's fight to secure a share of Northern shrimp quote for members as a couple of recent successes.

"That took incredible organization and an incredible amount of resources to do that," he said.

Could create vacuum

Sullivan believes the drive to sign members to the new rival union may benefit companies at the expense of harvesters.

"The fear is that it will create a vacuum and there will be opportunities for companies — offshore fishing companies, who are chomping at the bit and really salivating at the division they are seeing now — that can put inshore harvesters back decades in what we took to build up," he said.

Sullivan said there is misinformation being passed on in the fishing industry about the FFAW.

"People will talk about the FFAW having a boat and quota. That is one that is put out there that is totally false," he said.

The process to formalize the breakaway union started last week in Gander.

About a hundred people showed up at the meetings. The group is now trying to sign up a majority of the province's fishermen to have the FFAW de-certified and have FISH-NL certified to represent harvesters.

with files from Central Morning Show