In ‘for the long haul’
OCI warns of legal action as protesters set up picket at company HQ
As the sun set on the first day of locked-out trawlermen’s protest at Ocean Choice International’s (OCI) Paradise headquarters, the company’s CEO said he expects the courts to remove protesters from the parking lot.
About 20 disgruntled workers, locked in a labour dispute with the fishing company, set up a picket in OCI’S parking lot Thursday morning. The workers had been protesting in Bay Roberts against the company’s plan to use replacement workers on the deepsea trawler ‘ Newfoundland Lynx’.
The vessel’s regular crew consists of a number of residents from throughout the Burin Peninsula.
The ‘ Lynx’ set sail with a replacement crew early Thursday morning, after RCMP officers escorted the workers aboard. Some of the pickets - members of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union - were arrested for attempting to block workers from getting on, but were later let go without being charged.
Ocean Choice CEO Martin Sullivan, in a news conference in the company’s boardroom, said the protest is an unfortunate situation and blamed the labour dispute on union management.
“We certainly sympathize with the workers. We don’t think there’s any need to be in this position.
“We were getting very close to an agreement just before Christmas, negotiating a contract. After Christmas, everything went sideways when they came back with a 160 per cent increase in the price of fish, so we think there’s a larger agenda of the FFAW. They’ve threatened us in this boardroom to shut us down, to bring us to our economic knees if we close Marystown. Our view is that they’re basically carrying forward with that agenda.”
As drivers on Topsail Road honked their horns as they passed the protest, the FFAW’S industrial director, Greg Pretty, said Thursday morning at the protest that the arrests and use of replacement workers make it clear that Newfoundland and Labrador is a “scab province.”
“The real issue here is the medieval labour laws that allowed the police to escort people who are taking jobs from the crew members.
“It’s incredible that in 2012 you can have a legal strike and yet they can lose their jobs to scab workers. This province is a scab province, and that needs to change.”
Worker Gary Fisher and his wife Beryl were among those arrested early Thursday morning in Bay Roberts.
Mrs. Fisher explained how the altercation with police went down.
“We stood our ground and they got three RCMP officers’ cars in, and we had to move to let them in, so we let them in.”
Shortly after, around 2 a.m., she indicated a bus carrying replacement workers arrived, and the striking workers refused to move.
“There was no violence. Everybody was good on both sides.”
It was about 4:30 a.m., after what Mrs. Fisher called a “small skirmish,” that the riot squad got in position.
“We were told if we didn’t move, we were going to be arrested. So they started moving forward, moving forward ... they started to arrest. They had three or four gone, and my husband was there, they arrested him. I was next to go.” In all, the police arrested 23 people. “After they arrested so many, they just hauled the bus up, kept us all back, and the boys got off the bus and literally ran to the boat.”
David Decker, the union’s secretarytreasurer, said the protest would be on Ocean Choice’s doorstep “for the long haul.”
“This is different for this group of workers in that their workplace is a ship. It’s a floating platform, and obviously today, with the help of the RCMP, they got the scabs across the picket line and their workplace sailed away. It probably won’t be back for the next week or so.”
Mr. Sullivan, though, said he expected property owner Pennecon to take legal action to move the protesters off the property, as happened in Bay Roberts and earlier for a picket in front of the company’s shuttered fish plant in Marystown.
“We have to enforce our right to conduct our business. The property owner here - we’re not the property owner - have given a trespass notice to the workers today. If the trespass continues, I guess they’ll have to go forward to try to get an injunction.
“We have to be allowed to conduct our business. That’s all we want to do.”
The picketers were handed unsigned pieces of paper Thursday, warning them that any unauthorized access to the property was considered trespassing, but Mr. Decker said they weren’t moving.
“We have a right to protest here. I don’t know where we’re supposed to move, out into the middle of the street? Clearly, they want these people to go away. They do not want the faces of these people seen by the public. That’s why they came under cover of darkness last night.”
Mr. Pretty snorted when he was told Mr. Sullivan expects to have the protesters removed.
“That’s typical horseshit from Martin Sullivan. The fact of the matter is,” he said, gesturing at the Ocean Choice office, “that’s Ocean Choice International’s office right there. That’s their main office for Newfoundland. Our contract is with Ocean Choice.
“... When we strike Ocean Choice, we’re going to their office. And I’m happy to report we’re here.”
Meanwhile, workers waved at passing vehicles and held signs that read: “We Did Time For Our Jobs” and “Scabs Apply At OCI.”
Mrs. Fisher said she was encouraged by the honks of support from passing motorists.
“People need to know that we’re here, and this is not right, what they’re doing. This is definitely not right.”
Once they were released from jail Thursday, several trawlermen employed with Ocean Choice International (OCI) on the ‘Newfoundland Lynx’ moved their protest near the company’s headquarters in Paradise. After locking out the crew last week over a...