Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Yesterday's union: 2008 Independent column shows problems with the FFAW are nothing new

As editor-in-chief of The Independent, a province-wide weekly newspaper (2003-2008), I wrote a weekly column called Fighting Newfoundlander. The following piece was published in the March 7th, 2008 edition. 

Yesterday's union 

When you throw a swing you’ve got to expect a shot back across the bow, but I was mildly surprised with the letter to the editor this week from the fishermen’s union. 

Part of me thought the union was dead in the water, although there’s apparently life in the cold fish yet. That said, the mild flapping of union tails could be mistaken for the final jerk and twitch of a drawn-out death throe. 

Not the union’s passing, mind you.

I’m talking about outport genocide. 

The issue has to do with stamp factories. 

To simplify, last week’s column, Get a real job, took the union to task for trying to create a stamp factory on Newfoundland’s south coast.

I say stamp factory because New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture proposed to create 200 full-time jobs but, following a request by the Town of Harbour Breton and the union, agreed to potentially create upwards of 300 jobs through job sharing so more people will qualify for EI benefits.

Earle McCurdy, head of the fishermen’s union, didn’t have a problem with last week’s front-page story by Ivan Morgan that outlined just those facts.

His problem was with me, and my “typical right-wing, anti-worker bombast” (see letter below this week’s cartoon). 

Why is it that anyone who whispers a hit of dissent against the all-powerful fishermen’s union, with its leaders for life, till death do they ultimately part, is automatically branded as ring wing?

If right wing means pro-Newfoundland and Labrador, then string me up. If right wing means trying to break the cycle of EI dependence, then call me a bad Samaritan and burn me in newspaper effigy. 

I say the union should be charged in court for failing to act as the fishery drowns at its feet. No doubt, fishermen and plant workers have had a hard go of it for years, but the answer to turning the industry around is not more of the same EI dependence.

Which is the tired old union’s only answer. 

It’s sacrilegious to talk poorly about the fishery, EI or the union. McCurdy calls my attack “offensive and mean spirited.” I say the union should be held accountable as much as anyone given the fact that the fishery remains on government life support generation after generation.

In his letter, McCurdy says the lives of plant workers are so had that many of them suffer from chronic pain, which they temper with painkillers.

I say the union itself is on Prosac. 

At the very least, it’s been so reliant on federal programs over the years that it’s become fat, lazy and apathetic. 

When was the last time there was a fisherman’s rally, one in which the yellow buses and box lunches weren’t provided for everyone who showed up.

McCurdy attempts to put me in my place for accusing the union of having it own shrimp and crab quotas and boat to fish them. “Our union does not own a shrimp boat, a crab boat, a shrimp quota, or a crab quota,” he writes, “nor do we own in whole or in part any organization that has such assets.”

It was in May 2004 that The Independent wrote a business story on the so-called “union boat,” as it was known to fishermen on the wharves. The Katrina Charlene was built in the late 1990s by the Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters Inc., a company with close links to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union.

At the time the story was written, Ches Cribb, CEO of the company, which was known in fishing circles as the offshore trawlermen’s co-op, was also vice-president of the FFAW’s deep sea division.

At least two other company directors were also FFAW executives. All directors and crew were union members.

The company was formed in 1996 to retrain deep-sea trawlermen displaced by the collapse of the cod fisheries in the early 1990s. 

A spokesman for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans told the paper in 2004 that the Katrina Charlene was granted an exploratory crab quota of approximately 535 tonnes in 1996. The quota was issued every year after up to 2004.

Cribb wouldn’t tell The Independent who financed the boat, although he did say it wasn’t the FFAW. He said the main purpose of the boat was to train and educate trawlermen. 

At least one fishermen back in the day questioned why the union boat was allowed to compete with boats owned by the membership. “What are they training fishermen for if there’s no fish?” the fishermen asked. “There’s no fishery … are the going to send them to Portugal to fish?”

McCurdy couldn’t be reached for comment at the time. 

He was busy this week writing letters. 

For some reason the union feels its above investigation. It is not. Has McCurdy been in power so long that he thinks he’s God’s gift to fish? Well let me tell you sir, the fish are dead at your feet.

McCurdy, who hails from the old Evening Telegram, as does at least one other union executive, as awfully close ties to the local media, raising the question whether the relationship is too close for the fishery’s comfort. 

God knows the local media would hate to offend. I received one call this week from a man who questions why theres’ even a daily Fishermen’s Broadcast — which celebrated its 57th anniversary this week — when the fishery is but a shadow of its former self. 

I believe in the Broadcast, but only as long as it challenges the powers that be. McCurdy says I would be an ideal speech writer for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his “culture of defeat.” Beg your pardon Earle, but it’s your outdated solutions that have the ring of defeat. Time to lead or get the hell out of the way. 

Just this summer an ATIP request revealed just how close the ties were between the FFAW and the Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters. The FFAW has yet to respond to charges of conflict of interest.  

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