The battle between FFAW president Keith Sullivan and FISH-NL’s Ryan Cleary could be nearing its end.
The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW), represented by lawyer Tom Johnson, and members of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) were called to an unexpected meeting on Tuesday morning with the Labour Relations Board to discuss some of the issues that have caused the fight to drag on and on.
“They were careful to say that it wasn’t a hearing, so we didn’t know what to expect,” said Cleary.
The meeting was a chance for both parties to outline their concerns over the now 16-month process to determine whether or not a vote can happen to determine whether FISH-NL can represent fish harvesters in the province.
The question of how many harvesters are in the province is central to the question. In order to be recognized, 50 per cent plus one of all fish harvesters in the province must vote in favour of FISH-NL for the new union to be able to represent harvesters in the province.
The FFAW maintains the total number of harvesters in the province is near 10,000, while FISH-NL says that number is closer to 4,500.
The Labour Relations Board has been trying to determine the correct number, so it can hold the pivotal vote.
One of the issues at the meeting was that a representative from the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) was not present, and the board had questions about some of the group’s statements.
“Last winter, (ASP) was clear: just because a fish sale is put in your name and dues are automatically remitted, paid to the FFAW, that does not mean that you’re an inshore harvester,” Cleary said.
He says the FFAW is basing its number of inshore harvesters on how many people paid dues, which Cleary says inflates the total number. The original submission from FISH-NL outlined eight criteria that must be met for a harvester to be counted.
According to Cleary, if FISH-NL’s numbers are accepted and a vote is held, FISH-NL would win the certification vote.
Cleary says there are no plans to file a complaint against the Labour Relations Board because of how long the process has taken.
FFAW lawyer Tom Johnson says FISH-NL’s own definition of an inshore harvester isn’t backed up by legislation. If that definition is accepted by the board, it could mean inshore harvesters are left out of union coverage.
“It’s apparent to us that FISH-NL would now wish to bring forth a tailor-made definition of who they would consider to be what they refer to as a bona fide fish harvester,” Johnson said.
“It seems to us as well that from a practical point of view, it would leave thousands and thousands of people on the sidelines that would not be represented by a trade union. I think that would be surprising to thousands of people.”
Johnson suggests FISH-NL is getting in over its head.
“It seems to us that FISH-NL has bitten off something in excess of what they thought they were biting off and now are suggesting that there’s only 4,500 harvesters in the province, which is very difficult to square with the collective bargaining and labour relations reality that we’ve been operating under for decades,” he said.
Tuesday’s meeting could signal that the Labour Relations Board is headed toward a vote. On that matter, inshore fish harvesters will have to continue to wait and see what their future representation will look like.