Frus­tra­tions aplenty with FFAW

Port de Grave har­vesters among those in­ter­ested in pro­posed union

The Compass - - NEWS - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON TC ME­DIA ed­i­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Those that The Com­pass ap­proached work­ing away on boats last week at the wharf in Port de Grave were gen­er­ally re­luc­tant to say much about the new har­vester-only union draw­ing at­ten­tion all over New­found­land.

But those who did share a few words — on the con­di­tion of anonymity — sug­gested there’s lots of peo­ple in the area who are frus­trated with the Fish, Food and Al­lied Work­ers Union.

“Any­thing is bet­ter than what it has been,” one har­vester told The Com­pass, adding the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple he talks with want in on the new union.

The union drive so far is get­ting some se­ri­ous looks. Hun­dreds of har­vesters at­tended meet­ings held last week in Cor­ner Brook and Clarenville.

Frus­tra­tions hinge on a va­ri­ety of is­sues that have come up in the in­dus­try. One man on the wharf pointed to var­i­ous fees in place and the ex­or­bi­tant com­pen­sa­tion for union man­age­ment and staff.

On the flip­side of that, a pen­sion for har­vesters amounts to sell­ing off their en­ter­prise when they’re ready to leave the sea. Mean­while, those who con­tinue to har­vest are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to com­pete against boats owned by plant op­er­a­tors and even the union it­self.

“The union now is DFO to us, be­cause what­ever they says goes,” an­other har­vester told The Com­pass last week, adding he feels there’s a lot of de­vel­op­ments within the FFAW that are cov­ered up.

There’s also some gen­eral dis­sat­is­fac­tion over cod licenses grant­ing har­vesters the right to catch 2,000-3,000 pounds per week.

“Why would a 65-foot or a 70foot boat go out and get that, and pay a crew? There’s noth­ing there to do it. And that’s what re­ally stirred all this up, is when the cod fish­ery came out. Peo­ple weren’t con­sulted about it. Two or three (peo­ple) higher up in the union come out with all this plan­ning, and there’s no con­sul­ta­tions done with fish­ers … It’s been brew­ing for awhile, but that’s what I think put it over the top.”

The push for the a new union — spear­headed by for­mer politi­cian and jour­nal­ist Ryan Cleary — is fo­cused on har­vesters and would not in­volve plant work­ers, some of whom are rep­re­sented by the FFAW. Cleary has sug­gested there’s a con­flict of in­ter­est at play there.

Those that The Com­pass spoke with about shar­ing a union with plant work­ers dis­agreed. One har­vester said plant work­ers ide­ally de­serve bet­ter pay than what they cur­rently get in most plants. An­other wor­ries what a labour dis­pute would do to the in­dus­try.

“If any­thing hap­pened and the union got split and the fish­er­men and the work­ers got sep­a­rated in dif­fer­ent unions, boy, I could see prob­lems there if they ever went on strike. How would you ever get things re­solved?”

A con­cern brought up last week re­volved around the mus­cle a new union would man­age to flex in com­par­i­son to the FFAW. In re­cent years, it joined forces with Uni­for, which is the largest pri­vate sec­tor union in Canada with over 310,000 mem­bers.

“How’s a small group of 5,000 peo­ple go­ing to fund it­self? Right now you’re in there with Uni­for — prob­a­bly one of the big­gest unions in Canada. If some­thing hap­pens, at least you’ve got some­thing to fall back on.

“I don’t know who’s go­ing to put all the money into this new union. You’re not go­ing to get peo­ple to run that union for noth­ing.”

That said, he also be­lieves what’s hap­pen­ing now could bear fruit whether or not the union drive is suc­cess­ful. Cleary and his co­horts must at­tract 50-per-cent-plus-one sup­port to es­tab­lish a new union.

“I think it’s prob­a­bly a good idea that they did start up this, to at least put the ones that’s run­ning it now, to put their feet to the fire,” he said.

“I don’t know if they’re go­ing to get enough sup­port to form an­other union, but it wouldn’t sur­prise me if they did.”

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON/TC ME­DIA

There are fish har­vesters in Port de Grave cu­ri­ous to see what will come of a push to form a new al­ter­na­tive to the FFAW.

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