Nfld. & Labrador

Furious Fortune workers fight back against own union

Dozens of plant workers from Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula headed to St. John's Monday to fight for their jobs, as well as against the union that represents them.
Workers from the Fortune fishplant confront FFAW president Earle McCurdy 7:43

Dozens of angry fish plant workers from Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula confronted their own union president Monday, demanding he not stand in the way of a controversial deal to export yellowtail flounder in return for work at their plant.

Last week, workers at the Ocean Choice International plant in Fortune voted unanimously to accept the company's proposal to ship three-quarters of its yellowtail flounder quota out of the province unprocessed.

In return, OCI is promising 110 full-time jobs at the Fortune plant to handle the rest of the flounder quota.

But the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union is against the proposal. Union president Earle McCurdy said it sets a dangerous precedent.

Organizers hired two buses to take workers to the city on Monday, and held a rally outside the FFAW offices.

"You're going against your people. That's not fair," said one protester.

"I want them to work, too," McCurdy said. "But I also want it done in a manner that we got a future for the fishery in our province."

The union president said it's a dicey path to allow 75 per cent of a quota to be shipped to China for processing, noting a foreign trawler will likely catch the fish.

"If we open the door to foreign boats in this province, we'll regret the day. We'll regret the day," McCurdy said.

Heated protest

Many protesters made their voices heard.

"So it's time for you to wake up and get Fortune open. We needs that plant open, and now. Not next year, or the year after. We mean now," said one protester.

"Earle McCurdy got heat for the winter. Those people may not. Do you understand?" asked another protester.

One protester said they don't need McCurdy.

"We're going to get this plant open, with or without you. And after the plant is open, we've got lots of time to deal with you afterwards."

Another said they just want to get back on the job.

"We don't want make-work projects. We don't want welfare. We want to work. And work we will have."

Government's decision

The provincial government doesn't need the union's agreement to make the deal happen. But so far government hasn't taken that step.

Derrick Dalley, who took over the fisheries portfolio in Friday's cabinet shuffle, spoke with protesters at Confederation Building on Monday.

"We recognize fully that ultimately we're going to make a decision," he said.

"As minister, I will stand and make a decision on this issue."

Dalley's predecessor, Darin King, insisted the government cannot go ahead with the OCI proposal if the FFAW is not onside.

The FFAW, for its part, said the decision rests entirely with the government. McCurdy said King was trying to scapegoat the union leadership, which he said was sticking to long-standing policies against the wholesale export of unprocessed seafood.

Union rep says Fortune needs the jobs

Local FFAW union representative Karen Caines said the Fortune workforce needs the jobs that will come with the deal.

"Whether the FFAW agrees with this proposal or not at the end of the day, the final decision comes back to our provincial government," Caines told CBC News Monday.

"We would like the provincial government to agree with this proposal and get our 110 workers back to work."