Nfld. & Labrador

'I'm doing this because I believe in it': Ryan Cleary risking it all for FISH-NL

Ryan Cleary has been called a liar, a narcissist, an opportunist and more, but the leader of FISH-NL fought back Wednesday, saying he's sacrificing a lot because he believes strongly in the movement he's leading.

FFAW says Cleary's group may reduce the clout of harvesters

FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary says he's putting his future financial security in jeopardy by leading the upstart union's efforts to bust up the FFAW. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Ryan Cleary has been called a liar, a narcissist, an opportunist and more, but the leader of FISH-NL is fighting back, saying he's sacrificing a lot because he believes strongly in the movement he's leading.

Cleary is not taking a salary, has racked up 9,000 kilometres on his vehicle travelling throughout the province, and put his own financial security in jeopardy.

"I've cashed in my RRSPs to do what I'm doing right now because I believe in what I'm doing and I believe in taking any kind of salary would take away from my credibility," Cleary told CBC News Wednesday.

And for those who question his honesty, Cleary issued this challenge:

"For those who call me a liar and a narcissist, I have one question; About what? What am I lying about?"

A full-frontal raid on the FFAW

The former hard-charging journalist and one-term federal MP is the face of a movement trying to bust up the powerful Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, which represents thousands of fish harvesters and plant workers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

FISH-NL is trying to lure harvesters away from the FFAW in a bold and aggressive raid that has the potential to dramaticly alter the labour landscape.

The campaign has been dominated by accusations of personal attacks and back-and-forth arguments about what group is best suited to represent the volatile fishing industry.

For the past two months, Cleary's upstart group has been criss-crossing the province in a drive to sign up members.

Now there are signs that support for FISH-NL may have stalled, and that could lead to a scenario where more than one union may soon represent harvesters in the province.

Seeking a foothold in fishery

The first indication was in Port de Grave a few weeks back, where only a handful of people attended a FISH-NL meeting. Port de Grave is one of the busiest fishing ports in the province.

Then this week, Cleary announced the group was extending its membership drive by more than a week, and that it may seek to represent harvesters who sell their catches to specific companies, as opposed to all harvesters.

The bottom line is if we do not have the numbers to submit an application for the entire province, we're gonna do this any way we can.- Ryan Cleary

"The bottom line is if we do not have the numbers to submit an application for the entire province, we're gonna do this any way we can," said Cleary.

"We're gonna get a foothold in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery and make no mistake about what I'm going to tell you right now: this is the beginning of the end of the FFAW."

The FFAW was quick to jump on this change in approach by FISH-NL.

Union executive David Decker said it's obvious Cleary's group does not have widespread support, and its action could weaken the bargaining power of harvesters.

FFAW secretary-treasurer David Decker says a scenario that would see fish harvesters represented by more than one union is a "preposterous" concept. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"To divide harvesters is preposterous. I mean this is really about diminishing in terms of the clout that harvesters would have at any kind of bargaining table and any move to reduce the influence of harvesters certainly we're going to fight it," said Decker, the FFAW's secretary-treasurer.

An extended deadline for membership

FISH-NL supporters now have until Thursday, Dec. 29 to sign up.

The next day, the group will apply for certification to the labour relations board.

If it determines the group has sufficient support, it could authorize a formal vote to determine what union will represent harvesters.

Will it be a single application for all harvesters? Or many applications based on groups of harvesters who sell their catches to various companies?

Cleary said that decision will be made next week.

He would not say whether FISH-NL has the 40 per cent support of harvesters required to trigger a labour board vote, but said support is very strong in areas such as the Northern Peninsula, west coast, south coast and parts of the northeast coast.

He acknowledged that support in Trinity and Conception Bays is "weak" because "fishermen (in those areas) are doing well."

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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