FISH-NL to reveal strategy for certification bid on Friday

The leaders of an upstart union movement will reveal their strategy for certification Friday, months after launching a campaign.

Leaders with upstart fisheries union movement to meet with labour relations board, address reporters

FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary says he's putting his future financial security in jeopardy by leading the upstart union's efforts to bust up the FFAW. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The leaders of an upstart union movement in Newfoundland and Labrador will reveal their strategy for a certification bid Friday, months after launching a bitter and divisive campaign to try and raid the province's influential fisheries union.

Representatives from the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters (FISH-NL) will visit the Labour Relations Board in St. John's in the morning, and plans to speak with reporters at their office on Job Street at 11 a.m. 

One application? Or many? 

It's unclear if the union will file a single application to represent all the province's fish harvesters, which now seems unlikely based on recent messaging from FISH-NL.

The other option being touted in recent days is the submission of multiple applications in an attempt to represent harvesters who sell their catches to certain companies. 

"All will be revealed tomorrow," FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary said.

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters has distributed roughly 11,000 of these membership cards in recent weeks. It's not known how many were signed and returned to FISH-NL.

Either way, there could be a dramatic shake-up on the labour front in the fishery, the likes of which hasn't been seen in more than a generation.

Currently, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union (FFAW) represents harvesters and those who work in seafood processing plants, but FISH-NL is trying to break up the union and wants to only represent the roughly 10,000 harvesters.

Thousands of cards received, says Cleary

Thursday is the deadline for fishers to submit signed membership cards, and Cleary said last week the goal is to get 40 per cent support in order to trigger a formal certification vote with the labour board.

Previously, he had said the threshold was 50 per cent.

Cleary has refused to say how many membership cards were received, except to say the number was "in the thousands" and that they were arriving in large numbers each day.

It's a critical time for FISH-NL, which has been running a low-budget membership drive with a war chest of just $30,000, according to Cleary.

Cleary, a former journalist and a one-term New Democratic MP, has said he is not receiving a salary.

"I believe in what I'm doing and I believe in taking any kind of salary would take away from my credibility," Cleary told CBC News on Dec. 21.

Meanwhile, both sides have engaged in a heated — and sometimes personal — series of attacks. 

Cleary has accused the FFAW of morphing into a business that is more concerned with collecting fees and government money than representing the best interest of harvesters, and often describes the FFAW as the "saltwater mafia."

The FFAW has also ramped up its criticism in recent weeks, accusing FISH-NL of having no real plan for the fishery and trying to weaken the bargaining power of harvesters.

About the Author

Terry Roberts

CBC News

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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