Try, try again: FISH-NL making second push to unseat FFAW

The upstart union is once again aiming to represent inshore fish harvesters, after failing to meet the criteria to challenge the current union last year.

Upstart union failed in 2018 to meet qualifications for certification from labour board

The first two cards in the new membership campaign were signed Monday, by the union's vice-president and secretary-treasurer. (CBC)

FISH-NL is once again attempting to become the union to represent the province's inshore harvesters, and on Monday embarked on the first step toward doing so by launching a 90-day membership campaign.

The upstart union failed to meet the necessary criteria in 2018 in order to challenge the current union, FFAW-Unifor, for that representation. FISH-NL needed 4,000 membership cards, representing 40 per cent of the province's inshore harvesters; it received a little more than 2,300.

"We're going to steamroll through the FFAW this time," Jason Sullivan, the vice-president of FISH-NL, said at a press conference.

The union, which formed three years ago, has learned from its first failure and adjusted tactics accordingly, said its president.

"This has been a long, hard process. and we've learned a lot along the way," said Ryan Cleary.

Whereas before FISH-NL spent six weeks campaigning for cards, now it will use the maximum allowed amount of 90 days, submitting the results to the province's Labour Relations Board on Nov. 8. The board will then verify the submission and rule on whether FISH-NL met the qualifications to trigger a vote among all fish harvesters as to who they want as their union.

The union's executive board, from left, Jason Sullivan, Ryan Cleary, and Peter Leonard. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Cleary also said FISH-NL now understands who qualifies as a fish harvester for the purpose of signing a card, a definition it was missing the first time around.

"We've got almost double the time. We know the rules of the game. We don't agree with all of the rules, but the rules are the rules and we're going to do this," he said.

Campaign cash

In launching its renewed bid, FISH-NL's executives also issued a plea for donations to carry the card campaign to completion.

"We need money to do this, make no mistake," said Cleary.

It's the second time in 2019 the union has asked for funds to keep running, with Cleary speaking out in April, saying FISH-NL needed $150,000 to keep from folding. There was no dollar figure given Monday as to what was needed to complete the card drive, although Cleary called it an "extraordinary expense."

While soliciting money, Cleary said he did not want contributions from any fish processors or buyers, but that any other donations are welcome.

The union will also begin a tour across the province to drum up support for the membership campaign in the near future.

Fishy business

The FISH-NL announcement coincided with two protests from the FFAW, whose members gave out free cod on the waterfronts of St. John's and Old Perlican on Monday morning in an effort to pressure the provincial government to allow sales of the fish outside the province.

Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne announced a 14-day window to do so later that afternoon.

FISH-NL's executive slammed the protest, with Sullivan calling it "embarrassing" and "disgusting."

FISH-NL said at the moment, it has 430 harvesters paying union dues, while the FFAW has said there are 10,000 inshore fish harvesters in the province.

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With files from Cecil Haire and Jane Adey