In ‘for the long haul’

Daniel
Daniel MacEachern
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OCI warns of legal action as protesters set up picket at company HQ

FFAW members picket near the OCI headquarters in Paradise Thursday. In foreground is Greg Pretty, FFAW spokesman for the workers. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

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.

But 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,” he said.

“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.”

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,” Pretty said, as drivers on Topsail Road honked their horns as they passed the protest.

“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.

“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,” said Beryl. Shortly after, around 2 a.m., a bus carrying replacement workers arrived, and the striking workers refused to move, she said. “There was no violence. Everybody was good on both sides.”

It was about 4:30 a.m., after what Beryl called a “small skirmish” that the riot squad got in position, she said. “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,” she said.

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 secretary-treasurer, 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,” he said. “It probably won’t be back for the next week or so.”

Sullivan, though, said he expects 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,” he said. “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 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?” he said. “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.”

Pretty snorted when he was told 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.”

St. John’s North MHA Dale Kirby, the NDP’s labour critic, said the government has not been involved enough in the dispute.

“I think the government needs to be, first and foremost, show some leadership,” he said, asking why Fisheries Minister Darin King has been addressing the situation, and not Terry French, the minister responsible for the provincial labour relations agency.

Kirby said the government needs to reassure the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that the province’s fishing heritage isn’t sailing away with the Lynx.

“They weren’t elected by Ocean Choice International. They were elected by the people,” he said.

Workers waved at passing vehicles and held signs that read “We Did Time For Our Jobs” and “Scabs Apply At OCI.” Beryl 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,” said Beryl Fisher.

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramDaniel

 

 

King says no to OCI proposal

Multiple demands at play in government’s rejection

 

 

By Andrew Robinson and Daniel MacEachern

The Telegram

The provincial government will not accept Ocean Choice International’s (OCI) proposal to ship the majority of its yellowtail landings unprocessed in exchange for processing the remainder in Fortune.

Fisheries Minister Darin King said the decision was not an easy one for him to make, given its connection to his home community of Fortune.

“I talked to people in Fortune as we were going through this process. My commitment here is to get the best return for the province, and that included Fortune. I hope they’ll understand this is about securing a future for the resource.”

Speaking with reporters Thursday afternoon at the Confederation Building, King said the proposal from OCI did not offer enough value to the province.

Three issues were central to government’s decision not to accept the deal, according to King. It wanted 10 million pounds of flatfish to be processed in Fortune on an annual basis instead of the seven million pounds offered by OCI. The latter figure represents approximately one-quarter of the company’s total annual yellowtail catch. The remainder of product would have been shipped outside the province for processing.

While OCI has claimed it would lose money processing in Fortune, King said even at 10 million pounds the company could make a modest profit before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, based on government’s analysis. 

“Our analysis shows there would be a slight profit margin when we did the final assessment, factoring in the entire groundfish operation of redfish and yellowtail.”

King said OCI flatly rejected that proposal.

Government was also reluctant to extinguish the landing obligations related to the company’s licence when the Quota Holdco agreement comes up for renewal in five years.

“When Quota Holdco expires in roughly five years time, it’s my expectation the federal minister will renew that commitment on the same terms and conditions. That means he’ll renew it for another nine-year-period with a requirement that fish product be landed in the province, which gives us some security.”

Finally, government wants OCI to provide adequate support to displaced workers in Marystown and Port Union. King said he has witnessed no action on that matter, despite OCI previously indicating it would provide a top-up for the current fish plant worker employment support program.

Speaking with reporters later in the day, OCI CEO Martin Sullivan expressed disappointment over government’s decision.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed that (the proposal has) been rejected. We’ll be taking some time over the next few weeks to regroup and see what our next moves are,” he said.

“We’ve been clear that in order for Fortune to be a long-term, year-round facility, it would need to add yellowtail flounder to it, so it’s currently operating in the winter, producing our cod and greysole, and we’ll have to assess the future of that once that season’s over,” he said. “We’ve been clear that after April there’s no plan for Fortune as it sits today, that we will operate until we finish our quotas for the current winter season, and then we’ll have to reassess and sit with all our staff and see what the next steps are.”

Sullivan maintained the Fortune plant would lose money while operating under the company’s proposal.

Talks between the two sides were still taking place earlier this week, said King.

The minister added government is willing to hear from OCI on any new proposals it may look to put forward.

“If Ocean Choice can’t see a way to do a better return to the province than they presented in this proposal, we’re not prepared to accept it,” he said.

Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union president Earle McCurdy, while not displeased with King’s ultimate decision, was not impressed with some of the details coming out of Thursday’s news conference.

“Really, the minister effectively turned his back on Marystown. What this involves, between the redfish and the flatfish combined, 75 per cent of the fish would still leave the province without processing content whatsoever, and frankly, that’s not good enough.”

King said in his view, the fish plants in Marystown and Port Union are closed for good, and once town officials and workers inform government such is the case, they will begin introducing programs to help the situation.

The official opposition’s fisheries critic applauded the minister’s decision.

“The minster made the right decision, and I’m pleased that he did it,” said Liberal MHA Jim Bennett, adding much credit should go to voices in Marystown who told King not to make the deal.

 

arobinson@thetelegram.com

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com

 

Organizations: RCMP, Allied Workers, NDP

Geographic location: Bay Roberts, Marystown, Newfoundland and Labrador Topsail Road

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • response to stan and Jack
    February 10, 2012 - 21:00

    FYI, while I own many Tims and McDonlads, my most lucrative business venture is my Business Process Oursourcing (BPO) firm. Our overall objective as a company is to help companies increase their profits by outsourcing non-core business functions. My make a long story short, we contact firms and look for ways where we can do the work of existing workers for less. Our main strategies including offering to replace the workers with cheaper labour, temp. workers, students and part time works. Our mandate is to take over the responsibility of doing the jobs of other workers and providing the service at a cheaper cost. Naturally, we are essentially taking away the jobs of existing workers, and making a profit by getting the jobs done more efficiently. The replacement workers are in many ways like the workers I hire, but they like my workers are doing nothing wrong. It is just the nature of competition. We have nothing personally against the workers who we displace, but we are certainly happy to take their jobs away and do their jobs in a more efficient manner, as long as we can make money off the transaction. SO, we win, the companies win and our workers win. There is a loser, which is the existing worker whose job we have taken, but one loser and three winners sounds like an overall net benefit to me. When we find out a company is having labour problems, we are quick to contact them and pitch our services. We are not offering "scab" labour, as we have no interest in providing services until a collective agreement is reached. Rather, our interest is targetting labour disputes with the intention of replacing existing workers with our workers permenantly. I applaud the so-called scabs for offering OCI a more cost effective solution for their business needs. It is just math, and efficient decision fmaking by OCI and the workers who are on the boat, right now, doing the work and contributing to the tax base.

  • Corey
    February 10, 2012 - 20:13

    I understand the union's concern that they might lose their jobs, & I think OCI has not handled this situation entirely correctly. Hopefully there will be a resolution in the very near future. I have to say this though: whether you agree with them or not, "Scabs" are living people too. What is it about society that "Scabs" are treated & labelled as being...y'know...less than human? And why do people say things like "I hope this or that happens to the scabs", WHY do people wish for bad things to happen to scab workers? Apparently, the scabs were being threatened verbally by the union members. Seriously, if the union DARES trying to resort to violent, intimidating tactics, then they won't get as much sympathy as they believe. The union can express their concerns without intimidation. Anyways, let's hope that a PEACEFUL resolution comes about, & both sides ultimately can benefit. Because the best deals are the ones that help BOTH sides out long term.

  • Stan Squires
    February 10, 2012 - 14:08

    I am originally from NFLD and im living in vancouver at the present time.I supports the workers from Ocean Choice who work on the trawler, NFLD Lynx.All workers in canada have the right to go on strike for better working conditions.Replacement workers got no morals and should be condemned by everyone.I never crossed a picket line in my life and i would pefer death rather than cross a picket line. It is typical opf the CEO,Martin Sullivan to say that it is the fault of the union.He got nothing in common with the workers.Without a union these workers would be no better than slaves.I use to be with the FFAW union in 1972 and 73 when i worked with National Sea Products in St. John's.All progressive people in NFLD and Labrador and other unions should support these workers with Ocean Choice Int. that are on strike for better working conditions.

  • plant worker
    February 10, 2012 - 10:15

    This strike could get very messy,,very messy indeed

  • jack
    February 10, 2012 - 10:12

    economic progress ,, yes now with replacement workers ,, SCABS thats what they are and will be ,, where is the morality in business , seems oci is run by a bunch of uneducated greedy mongrals , really , what happend to having honour in those who make you money , its a symboitc relationship guys . You rather pay replacement workers , than take care of your own ! whats wrong with people. Govt working for govt again ,, its like the 1500 hundreds here ,, ! and as for doing nothing for the canaidian economy ,, its oci fault they are there in the first place , why dont you hire some slave children from china , and trust me i m not a fisherman and will never be one with your lousy company !

    • Eli
      February 10, 2012 - 10:30

      JACK, why don't you ask the union what OCI proposals were turned down? I keep looking back to the work guarantes they turned down in Marystown.

  • Tired of The Same'ol Same'ol
    February 10, 2012 - 09:34

    Typical Newfoundlanders, unfortunately!!! The economy is probably the best it has ever been here in NL. These people are out of work so let’s look at the options: 1. Walk around on a picket line, intimidating anyone else who still has a job and can fight for them selves, begging for everyone’s support 2. Look for another employment opportunity. Duh!! Let’s be honest with ourselves here, no one like a change especially when it comes with no guarantees but that’s life. You can’t go through life with tunnel vision; everyone has control of their on destiny, so you get out of life what you put into it. Unfortunately, these people only know union lifestyle so their not programmed to fight for themselves, but as a group, their strong, so they think…. Move on people,,,,,,MOVE ON………… Bla Bla Bla

  • Watch Dog
    February 10, 2012 - 09:09

    “The minster made the right decision, and I’m pleased that he did it,” said Liberal MHA Jim Bennett, adding much credit should go to voices in Marystown who told King not to make the deal. Now there's an approriate response, unlike the NDP's Mr. Kirby who seems to be more interested in getting his name out there rather than saying anything relevant.

  • Eli
    February 10, 2012 - 08:37

    A 160% increase in the price of fish? Sullivan is right, there's another union agenda at play here and the workers are McCurdy's scapegoats. I emphasize "scapegoats".

  • Replaceworkers have a right to work
    February 10, 2012 - 08:29

    the replacement workers have a right to work, and OCI has a right to use replacement workers. Yes, workers are displaced, but this is economic progress. THe workers and refer to the jobs like the own them....it is quite disguisting for the workers to think they own the jobs and have a right to those jobs. OCI owns the jobs and can do with them as they see fit. They have no obligation to provide a job or livilihood to anyone, the only have an obligation to provide wages to the workers they choose, and again, the can chose who they want. SO here is to hoping for a snow storm, blizzard and etxreme weather conditions for those starnding on the street and complaining while doing NOTHING for the Canadian economy.