Nfld. & Labrador

'I will walk away': Ryan Cleary challenges FFAW to allow independent audit

Aspiring labour leader Ryan Cleary has issued a challenge to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, saying he will walk away from his movement if the FFAW will allow an independent audit of its books.

FFAW says it already conducts yearly audits; Canadian Labour Congress lobs broadside at Cleary

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

Aspiring labour leader Ryan Cleary has issued a challenge to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, saying he will walk away from his movement if the FFAW will allow an independent audit of its finances.

But the union says that's already being done.

It's the latest tactic by Cleary in his bid to form a new union exclusively for Newfoundland and Labrador fish harvesters, to be called the Federation of Independent Seafood Harvesters, or FISH-NL, and comes as the head of the Canadian Labour Congress strongly condemns Cleary's efforts.

'Too much to hide'

"I will walk away from Fish-NL, I will walk away from this movement, period, if the FFAW agrees to allow a third party to go in and do a forensic audit of the FFAW, all government money going in, all fees that fish harvesters pay in," Cleary told CBC News Tuesday.

Cleary quickly added it's a challenge he doesn't expect will be accepted because "they have too much to hide."

The FFAW responded with a statement saying Cleary's challenge is moot, because the union is already audited by an independent firm.

"Ryan Cleary is asking us to do something we already do," the statement read.

"In addition, our audited statements are reviewed and adopted by our membership at conventions."

No transparency, trust, says Cleary

When notified of the FFAW response, Cleary said those audits are "absent of details," including how much government money is given to the union, adding "fish harvesters say there is no transparency. There is no trust."

He repeated his assertion that the FFAW is closely linked to a mysterious crab quota and fishing vessel, and believes a forensic audit would prove it.

Keith Sullivan, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, wants to see a fisheries renewal fund back on the table as a federal election issue. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

As far as FFAW president Keith Sullivan is concerned, Cleary's claim has no merit.

Cleary has accused the FFAW of a conflict of interest, questioned its financial management practices, and suggested it is no longer representing the best interests of its members because it receives "untold millions" from Ottawa.

The former MP and journalist is leading an effort by a splinter group of disgruntled FFAW members in a bid to establish a new union.

But that effort suffered a setback this week in the form of a letter to Cleary from Hassan Yussuff, president of the influential Canadian Labour Congress.

Yussuff called Cleary's efforts to "raid" the FFAW opportunistic and divisive.

"The nature of raids leads to the type of angry and divisive behaviours we are now witnessing," Yussuff wrote in an Oct. 3 letter to Cleary.

Yussuff's letter was in response to an earlier request from Cleary for the CLC to investigate the FFAW.

But Yussuff said the CLC will not launch any investigation "at your request."

"Mr. Cleary, the Canadian labour movement has long been looking to eradicate behaviour such as what you are attempting here," Yussuff wrote.

"This is in fact an attempt to raid the FFAW-Unifor and create a role for yourself as its leader."

Hundreds attend meetings

The FFAW represents harvesters, trawlermen and those who work in the processing sector, but there's growing signs of discontent among fish harvesters.

Cleary's group recently held organizational meetings in Corner Brook and Clarenville, with each drawing hundreds of prospective members.

An inaugural convention for FISH-NL is now planned for Oct. 27 in Gander, and a union card-signing drive will take place in November and December, said Cleary.

"We're moving full steam ahead," Cleary said, brushing off suggestions the CLC letter was a setback.

Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, says Ryan Cleary's bid to form a separate fish harvesters union will hurt, not help, workers. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Cleary described Yussuff's letter as a personal attack, adding the CLC president did not address any of Cleary's concerns.

If FISH-NL can get more than half of the province's estimated 10,000 harvesters to sign union cards, it's expected that a vote will be held to certify the proposed new union.

This would effectively gut the FFAW of most of its membership.

Cleary gets some advice

The movement won't be getting any support from Yussuff or his organization.

"It is unfortunate that you are taking people down this road when our movement and the FFAW-Unifor are working together to fight on behalf of workers and not against each other," Yussuff wrote.

"We work together to build belonging and advance the rights of workers, not divide them. I would hope your behaviour going forward could work to that end."