Nfld. & Labrador

'We're just not being heard': Clarenville harvesters back Cleary-led FISH N.L. union

Fish harvester who want a new union in Newfoundland and Labrador say their movement is building momentum, after holding a second meeting to gauge interest Tuesday.

Proposed union will offer 'clear focus' and fishermen will be 'better off,' Cleary says

Clarenville harvesters back Ryan Cleary-led FISH N.L. union

6 years ago
Duration 2:31
Organizers behind a push to establish a new union exclusively for fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador say their movement is building momentum.

Organizers behind a push to establish a new union exclusively for fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador say their movement is building momentum, after holding a second meeting to gauge interest on Tuesday.

Former MP Ryan Cleary said the response on social media and at an earlier meeting in Corner Brook on Monday has been beyond expectations, and any doubt about whether there's enough support to move forward has been erased.

His efforts — which are poised to shake up the labour landscape in the province — were supported by another large turnout in Clarenville Tuesday.

"We said if people were serious, we needed to block these meetings to the rafters," Cleary said. "They were blocked to the rafters, we got the message loud and clear."

Ryan Cleary shakes hands with a man outside of a meeting to discuss a new fisherman's union in Corner Brook on Monday. A second meeting is happening Tuesday in Clarenville. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Many harvesters said they travelled long distances from Burin and the Northern Peninsula to attend the meeting, and organizers like Cleary reiterated that widespread discontent is real. 

"I have never experienced it before. It's a phenomenon," Cleary said outside the Clarenville Inn Tuesday.

Speakers inside the meeting shared a myriad of frustrations with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW), which also represents plant workers, and pledged to support efforts to form a new fishermen-only union.

Crowds continue in Clarenville

About 250 fishermen pledged to support the effort in Corner Brook and, on Tuesday, at least 150 more came to hear Cleary make his pitch.

Throughout the meeting, Cleary and fellow organizer Jason Sullivan blasted the FFAW, alleging the group is not transparent, not collaborative and not being honest with fishermen.

Those concerns were echoed by Tammy Elliot from Gambo, who harvests with her husband. She said the FFAW doesn't properly consult with fishermen, particulalyr on a new cod management plan.

"We're just not being heard," she said. "We need somebody to listen to us, we need somebody we can talk too." 

​Cleary said it's clear there's widespread dissatisfaction with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' union, which represents both harvesters and those who work in the seafood processing sector.

Emotions ran high following Monday's meeting in Corner Brook, at which some fishermen confronted a union leader, but Cleary said that won't be the tone of he campaign.

We plan to have a good clean campaign. We feel we have our finger on the pulse.- Ryan Cleary

He pledged a peaceful and respectful effort to break away from the FFAW.

"We plan to have a good clean campaign. We feel we have our finger on the pulse of what fish harvesters are feeling, and they want change," he said.

"This union is not cutting it."

'We're ready to go'

Cleary said after Tuesday's meeting the next step will be to formally establish the Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters, dubbed FISH-NL, by creating a constitution and bylaws.

Former NDP MP Ryan Cleary says support has been off the charts, as he moves to form a breakaway union for fish harvesters. The second meeting for talks about the proposed union is happening Tuesday in Clarenville. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The federation will then try to have a majority of harvesters sign cards of support.

If that can be achieved, Cleary said the Labour Relations Board will hold a vote to determine who will represent the province's approximately 10,000 fishermen.

"It's going to be a war. We're ready to go," he said.

Cleary said one of the challenges will be connecting with harvesters. He said the FFAW has that information, and he doesn't expect the union will release it.

"It's going to be like pulling teeth," he said.

Donald Spence, a harvester from the Northern Peninsula, "guaranteed" the crowd assembled in Clarenville that he would be part of a new union.

Rick Pippy, a retiring fisherman from Port Rexton, said it's incumbent every fishermen take a stand with Cleary's new effort.

"It's about time for the fishermen to actually get together and work together and stand up, without a doubt. If they don't do it now, when is it going to happen?" he asked.

Elliot said she hasn't completely lost faith in the FFAW, and is hoping the Cleary-led rebellion will force the union to change its ways.

So what is FISH-NL offering to fishermen?

A clear focus on the needs of fishermen, said Cleary.

"Not on bringing in government money or fees. Right off the bat they're going to be better off than they are now," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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: Terry.Roberts@cbc.ca.

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