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FISH-NL and FFAW still at odds over harvester numbers

FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary speaks Thursday morning during a news conference held by FISH-NL at its downtown St. John’s office, while FISH-NL vice-president Richard Gillett of Twillingate looks on.
FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary speaks Thursday morning during a news conference held by FISH-NL at its downtown St. John’s office, while FISH-NL vice-president Richard Gillett of Twillingate looks on.

List from Labour Relations Board being reviewed by both sides

There is still no official list, no final count of Newfoundland and Labrador inshore fish harvesters for the purposes of determining if there will be a vote on a breakaway union.

Leaders with the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) and the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW-Unifor) union have disputed who has a better total count on harvesters — one truly representative of inshore industry participation. The numbers being floated are very different, by thousands of individuals.

Determining an actual working list of harvesters is essential and the Labour Relations Board has now apparently issued a list of names to both sides as a starting point.

According to FISH-NL leaders, at a news conference Thursday morning, this list of harvesters is significant for its total count: 6,371 people. The number, they say, is far closer to FISH-NL’s estimate than to the FFAW’s past statements.

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“From 10,200 down to 6,371 — a difference of almost 4,000, or 40 per cent, is more than an exaggeration,” FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary said, adding that FISH-NL based its previously reported estimate on a count of harvesters filing employment insurance claims.

The information from the labour board would still be a problem for FISH-NL. The organization’s application for certification included 2,372 membership cards from inshore harvesters and that figure — if the new list is accepted as final — would fall short of the 40 per cent support needed to trigger a vote.

Cleary told reporters it’s not the end of the effort.

“While FISH-NL has only had a cursory look at the board’s list, we know some fishermen are included who have passed away, others who no longer fish and still more who work … in other full-time industries. So the ball is now in our court,” he said.

FISH-NL executive and support teams have started going through the list name by name, trying to track down individuals and verify their work.

The FFAW-Unifor says the board’s list was never said to be a complete one. The union suggested the list will grow yet, not shrink. It is also verifying names — ones that might be added to the board’s count.

“In fact, in our review of the list we have found several thousand active, commercial fish harvesters are not listed,” FFAW-Unifor president Keith Sullivan said in a statement issued as the FISH-NL news conference in St. John’s was still ongoing.

The FFAW-Unifor statement said the union is following the required process, noting no decisions have yet been made by the Labour Relations Board.

“This is simply another desperate attempt by Ryan Cleary and FISH-NL to exaggerate and spin a step in the board’s process in an effort to legitimize FISH-NL’s fledgling campaign to obtain a membership vote without having met the requirements set by legislation,” it reads, adding that the FFAW-Unifor respects the ongoing process.

“Cleary’s sideshows do a disservice to the industry and only distract from the serious work to be done by our members.”

The news release directed any further questions to the union’s lawyer, Tom Johnson.

The Labour Relations Board has told The Telegram it does not comment on active files.

Meanwhile, FISH-NL representatives said they have been bolstered in their continued push for certification by a recent mission to western Canada, where they met with representatives from independent unions.

Listed FISH-NL supporters now include: the Canadian Maintenance and Allied Workers Canada, representing construction workers in British Columbia; the Canadian Union of Skilled Workers, representing about 3,000 electricians and related trades workers in the energy sector in Ontario; and the Public and Private Workers of Canada, representing about 3,000 British Columbian workers in a variety of industries, from credit unions to airports.

Before ending the FISH-NL news conference, Cleary held up a hand and drew his thumb and index finger a hair away from each other.

“We are that close,” he said.

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