Nfld. & Labrador

FISH-NL extends deadline for membership cards to Dec. 29

Those still on the fence about whether to support an upstart union's attempt to represent fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador now have more time to make up their minds.

'The writing is on the wall,' says rival union FFAW

Ryan Cleary is leading an upstart union called the Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters, or FISH-NL. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Those still on the fence about whether to support an upstart union's attempt to represent fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador now have more time to make up their minds.

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters, better known as FISH-NL, had originally set Tuesday, Dec. 20 as the deadline to submit signed membership cards.

But president Ryan Cleary says supporters now have until Thursday, Dec. 29.

He said the extension has nothing to do with a lack of support for the campaign, but was influenced by the fact that cards continue to stream in, and FISH-NL wants to make sure every harvesters has a say.

"We still have cards coming in every day; by the dozens," Cleary told CBC News Tuesday.

"The writing is on the wall," according to rival union, Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW), in its own statement reacting to the delay.

"Today's announcement is a very good indication of how disorganized this group is," said Dave Decker, FFAW secretary-treasurer. "Their self-appointed deadline has come and gone and clearly they've fallen short."

A bitter campaign

FISH-NL has been waging a months-long and sometimes bitter campaign to unseat the FFAW as the voice of harvesters in the province.

That effort has included a membership drive, along with information meetings throughout the province. 

Cleary said FISH-NL has distributed some 11,000 cards, but would only say that "thousands" have been signed.

"I don't want to give this up to the other side," he said of the FFAW.

"They have a great idea of how many cards that we have because they've been so critical and so personal in their attacks on me and FISH-NL. So the louder they scream, the better we're doing. That's your indicator."

No decision on application to labour board

Cleary said FISH-NL needs the support of 40 per cent of harvesters to trigger a certification vote by the province's labour relations board. 

He would not say whether the group has reached that threshold, but the fact FISH-NL has still not decided how it will apply to the labour board may be a indicator.

Cleary said the options include a single application in a bid to represent all harvesters, or multiple applications to represent harvesters who sell their catches to specific processing companies.

The second option could lead to a scenario where some harvesters are represented by FISH-NL, with other represented by the FFAW.

Cleary said a decision on how to proceed will be made in the coming days, and the situation is being "re-assessed by the hour" as membership cards are received.

Weaken the bargaining power

The FFAW said dividing harvesters into separate bargaining units would benefit the companies.

"The suggestion of filing separate buyer-by-buyer applications would further diminish the bargaining power of harvesters and undoubtedly threaten their ability to negotiate higher prices," said that union in its news release.

To be certified by the labour board, FISH-NL would need more than 50 per cent of harvesters. Not filing an application until the end of December is a sign the group does not have the support it needs, said the FFAW.

Cleary said harvesters can access a membership card by visiting FISH-NL's website.


Terry Roberts is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and is based in St. John’s. He previously worked for The Telegram, The Compass and The Northern Pen newspapers during a career that began in 1991. He can be reached by email at:

With files from Marilyn Boone