Angry Fortune fish plant workers urged its union today to sign off on a proposal from Ocean Choice International that would create 110 jobs but send 75 per cent of its yellowtail catch out of the province unprocessed.
Two buses carried about 45 workers and their supporters to rallies in St. John’s, at the Confederation Building and at the headquarters the Fish, Food and Allied Workers. Union management do not support Ocean Choice’s proposal, arguing it ships out too much unprocessed fish, opens the door for foreign vessels fishing groundfish, and is a short-term solution for the people of Fortune at the cost of union members elsewhere in the province.
At the Confederation Building on Monday morning, Fortune Mayor Charles Penwell accused the union of treating the workers, who voted last week in support of Ocean Choice’s proposal, as pawns. "You people are the people who will be working at OCI, and the people who will be out of work if this proposal does not go through,” he said. “It’s your livelihood. A chance for 110 basically full-time, year-round jobs is nothing to be laughed at in rural Newfoundland.”
Plant worker Winston Matchim said people in Fortune just want to get back to work.
“It seems like the union doesn’t agree with shipping out the yellowtails, but there’s other species of fish that’s being shipped out besides, like turbot, and redfish and other species, so what’s the difference in shipping out yellowtails?” he said.
At times, emotions ran high. NDP Fisheries Critic Chris Mitchelmore was jeered at the Confederation Building when he told workers the Ocean Choice proposal is a bad one.
“You put yourself in our position, and I hope someday you will be able to come back to me and say ‘Now I’m in your position,’ with no job after 39 year working in the fishery, and now I got no job?” yelled plant worker Marie Grandy. “You come back to me, honey, when you’re down to where I’m to today.”
A delegation of workers and supporters — including Grandy and Penwell — met with new Fisheries Minister Derek Dalley — his first official job in the portfolio since last week’s cabinet shuffle — and former fisheries minister Darin King, there as the MHA for the Grand Bank riding on the Burin Peninsula. Workers want the provincial government to agree to the Ocean Choice proposal, but King and Dalley both said the government will make that decision only if an agreement can’t be reached with union management.
“I was very clear from the beginning that we felt that if we could arrive at a consensus to the decision, it would be an easier spot for the government to move forward, instead of the criticism we’re probably going to get anyway,” said King. “It would have been my hope, and expectation, personally that Fortune workers would have been treated identically to the Marystown workers. When Marystown workers were given a proposal, they voted. If they had accepted, it would have went forward. In this case, they rejected. In Fortune’s, case, unfortunately, I was a little surprised because the workers voted to accept and then the union executive took it back to their board and rejected it.”
Dalley, who has meetings scheduled soon with both the union and the company, said the decision will be made “in coming days.”
“I’ve been on the job for a couple of hours now, and for me it’s a great opportunity to hear their concerns and some of their history,” he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting with OCI and meeting with the FFAW and hear it from them as well directly, and from there we’ll take a look at the whole issue and see what kind of decision we’re going to make.”
McCurdy said union management is being unfairly scapegoated for the lack of an agreement, and that Ocean Choice has no flexibility on its proposal.
“Their position was all they wanted to hear from us was yes or no, we’re either for it as it is or we’re against it,” he said, after a heated discussion with workers after the rally moved to union headquarters. “We didn’t just simply say we’re against it, we said here’s ideas we think as to how and try and deal with what is obviously a very difficult situation.”
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A group of protesters and supporters from Fortune have gathered at the headquarters in St. John's of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' (FFAW) union.
The protesters — fish plant workers — want the union to support a proposal from OCI that would allow their plant to open for processing.
FFAW president Earle McCurdy is addressing the crowd.
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Fortune fish plant workers have gathered at Confederation Building this morning to demonstrate support for a new proposal from Ocean Choice International.
About 45 workers and supporters have gathered on the steps of the building before a planned visit to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union headquarters.
Fortune workers are at odds with union management, who say Ocean Choice's proposal ships too much yellowtail flounder out of province for processing, and doesn't do enough for long-term economic stability in the region.
Fortune Mayor Charles Penwell, addressing the crowd, accused the union of treating the workers as pawns.
"You people are the people who will be working at OCI, and who will be out of work if the proposal doesn't go through."
New Fisheries Minister Derek Dalley and former fisheries minister Darin King, who has moved on to a new portfolio in last week’s cabinet shuffle, have said they approve the proposal, which will create 110 jobs in Fortune.
More updates later and full story in Tuesday's print edition.