Monday, January 9, 2017

Harvester uprising not a raid of the FFAW, but a full fledged revolt

I delivered the following remarks on Friday, Dec. 30th, 2016 during a news conference after FISH-NL filed an application for certification with the Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Board.

Good morning, thank you for coming. 

Earlier this morning an application was presented to the Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Relations Board requesting that FISH-NL be certified as the new bargaining agent for inshore fish harvesters.

The application includes membership cards signed by inshore harvesters from more than 300 communities around the province.

We feel we have the support of more than 50 per cent of all inshore harvesters that we know of — we certainly had the support of more than 80 per cent of all harvesters we encountered. 

But there are few certainties in this process. 

FISH-NL does not know the exact number of inshore fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador, because we were not permitted access to a definitive list.

Such a list would have made our job a lot easier, that IS a certain.  

In the absence of a definitive list, FISH-NL’s executive does not feel comfortable in revealing publicly exactly how many membership cards we have submitted to the Labour Relations Board.

We don’t want to give the FFAW the opportunity to pad the list any more than they probably already have. 

FISH-NL has come a long way since we formalized in late October. 

Over the past 60 days since we started this membership drive, we held 49 formal meetings on every coast, and our crew of more than 200 volunteers spoke with thousands of fish harvesters in their homes, on the stages and wharves, wherever fishermen/fisherwomen gather. 

What we’re attempting has been described — not as a raid of another union — but as a full fledged revolt. 

Fish harvesters are not satisfied with their current union representation — we heard that message loud and clear everywhere we went. 

The FFAW has not been cutting it —  in terms of transparency, there is no trust between the union and its membership. 


In terms of consultation — there’s been consultation as of late, make no mistake — but only since FISH-NL came on the scene. 

Before that, when a meeting was held it was to TELL harvesters what had already been decided. 

The FFAW hasn’t been cutting it in terms of holding the government of Canada to account for Fisheries Management. 

Who’s the union? Who’s the manager? The line between the two hasn’t been blurred so much as obliterated. 

Harvesters don’t feel their interests are being put first.

There are too many conflicts of interest — between harvester, plant worker and trawlermen, between the union and government, between the union and processing companies. 

And harvesters demand change. 

They say change must come now. 

When FISH-NL held our first news conference in Petty Harbour in early September, Keith Sullivan, president of the FFAW, called us a vocal minority. 

That has never been the case. 

The unrest in the fishery is in every harbour, in every cove, in every corner of this province. 

The FFAW’s has been either been blind to it, or the union chooses to ignore it. 

Either way, change is upon us. 

This has been always been a David vs. Goliath battle. 

In terms of funding … 

FISH-NL has raised about $48,000 — primarily through donations — to fund our campaign. 

That’s a pittance compared to the funds the FFAW has access to. 

It’s been a David vs. Goliath battle in terms of the geography FISH-NL had to cover in an incredibly tight time line. 

In terms of the absence of a definitive list of fish harvesters, which I’ve already mentioned. 

In terms of constant fear mongering, and intimidation. 

FFAW representatives attended most of our meetings (or were out in the parking lot) and kept track of who came and who went. 

Despite the fact the Labour Relations Board assured us the FFAW would not have access to FISH-NL membership cards, some harvesters still feared repercussions. 

And the lies that were spread were outrageous — FISH-NL, for example, has not been funded by the offshore sector. 

For those reason alone, combined with the huge support we’ve gathered, FISH-NL urges the Labour Relations Board to proceed with a secret ballot. 

Despite the obstacles, here we are today. 

This has never been about me. 

Deflecting attention from the legitimate concerns of harvesters towards me — and my motivation for leading FISH-NL — has been a strategic decision on the part of the FFAW. 

Attack the messenger — ignore the brutal, critical message. 

The FFAW has failed its membership.

I was asked by fish harvesters to lead this revolt, and I’ve done that. 

FISH-NL is not the problem; FISH-NL is a symptom of a crisis facing our greatest industry. 

The fishery on many coasts is dying. 

It’s too hard for young people to get into the industry, and the safety of harvesters is not the No. 1 priority. 

Harvesters are being pounded by fees and charges, with no end in sight. 

Shrimp and crab are on the decline and — while codfish may be on the return — the prices are too low. 

Of all the questions that have been raised about FFAW secrecy/conflict of interest in recent months, one of the most unbelievable discoveries was that the union had proposed a 5 cent a pound ‘levy’ on lobster. 

Fish harvesters didn’t know about the FFAW proposal until FISH-NL brought it to light in early December. 

The FFAW argued the 5 cent levy was to cover the union’s “management” of the fishery. 

To quote the union: “The bulk of the work once conducted by DFO is now being done by the FFAW, with no financial or in-kind support from the processing sector.” 

How many lobster fishermen were asked their input on a levy? None. 

The fact that the union is taking over management responsibilities from DFO should be a concern to every harvester in this province … 

DFO is downloading to the FFAW, and the FFAW is taking it — without a word of complaint. 

The union cannot represent and manage in the same breathe, but that’s what’s happening. 

Has the FFAW taken over management responsibilities for other species besides lobster? 

We don’t know. 

How many other secret details has the FFAW done without the input of its membership? 

We don’t know. 

Is that the reason why the FFAW is against outsider buyers?


FISH-NL has proposed that the provincial government lift all restrictions and allow out-of-province buyers into the provincial marketplace for all species.

An open and free market in the fishing industry would, at best, result in increased competition and more money in the pockets of fish harvesters. 

At worst, it would keep local buyers honest. 

The seascape of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishing industry has already changed since FISH-NL came the scene. 

Harvesters have gotten calls from their union for the first time in their lives.

More meetings have been held with harvesters since the fall than have been held in years. 

The concerns of harvesters — and there are many — have been front and centre for months. 

But it’s not enough. 

I said this at the start of our campaign and I’ll say it again: the FFAW has lost its way.

The union has mutated into a corporation more concerned with feeding itself than looking after the best interests of its membership. 

The FFAW has also consistently refused to respond to the issues raised by FISH-NL. 

FISH-NL will not let up not let up on the pressure. 

We plan to ask Revenue Canada to investigate the FRC — a not-for-profit dockside monitoring company controlled by the FFAW — for millions of dollars skimmed off the top by the union over the years. 

We’ve made that accusations for months, but not a word in reply from the FFAW. 

How is that possible? 

Where is the union oversight? There is none? 

Who keeps checks of the unions? 

No one. 

Over the coming days and weeks, the Labour Relations Board will review our application and verify the membership cards.

The Board will determine whether we have the support of at least 40 per cent of fish harvesters, which would trigger an actual vote by the Labour Relations Board. 

That vote will be 50 per cent plus one, and ultimately decide which union will represent fish harvesters.

FISH-NL would like to thank the fish harvesters who signed membership cards, and the more than 200 volunteers who circulated them around the province.

It’s been an honour and an absolute privilege to travel this province and meet fish harvesters wherever they gather. 

Thank you.

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