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  • Writer's picturerryancleary

Labour board rejects Carbonear fisherman’s complaint against FFAW for failing to represent him

Fisherman Ken Green’s story is about freedom of speech (he has none), the (absolute) power that processors have over harvesters, the FFAW’s (ongoing) failure to represent the inshore fleet, and the broader point that cod should be graded at the wharf (you’re f—king right it should).

Carbonear-based fisherman Ken Green and harvesters like him say codfish should be graded at the wharf when it's landed — not sometime down the road when it reaches the plant.



Last August after fisherman Ken Green complained on VOCM OpenLine about the grade he got for his fresh codfish, and the fact he couldn’t find a buyer for his entire weekly quota, his processor/buyer dropped him outright. The FFAW filed a grievance, citing discrimination under the Master Collective Agreement, the province's Human Rights Code, and the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


Then, when the FFAW later unexpectedly dropped the case, Green went after the union for failing to fairly represent him — filing a complaint with the Labour Relations Board. 


This past June the board rejected Green’s complaint.


So where does that leave Green and licensed inshore harvesters like him in terms of their basic democratic right to free speech?


For now it leaves them f--ked, with all the power in the hands of the processor/buyer. 


Ultimately, even if it could be proven in court that Green’s buyer dropped him for speaking out publicly about the grade of his fish, the Master Collective Agreement between the FFAW and Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) does not oblige a processor to buy fish from a harvester — for whatever reason.


Which likely explains why the union didn't proceed with arbitration.


The union/ASP contract is weak (although hardly mentioned by either of the three candidates running to be the next FFAW-Unifor president). 


THE OTHER HUGE ISSUE IS GRADING AT THE WHARF

The other huge issue here is the age-old question whether codfish should be graded at the wharf when it's landed, instead of sometime down the road when the fish reaches the plant.


(Of course it should be graded at the wharf.)


The fact the FFAW hasn’t insisted on renegotiating the collective agreement so that cod is graded at the wharf is an ongoing and undeniable leadership failure.


Grading cod at the wharf should be an election issue.


Why isn't it?


TIMELINE OF EVENTS 


JULY 26th, 2023 

Carbonear fisherman Ken Green contacts the FFAW-Unifor to express his frustration over not being able to find a buyer for his cod. Companies reportedly weren't prepared to buy fish until after crab was done. Ken asks the union to lobby for outside buyers/over-the-side sales.


AUG. 7th, 2023 

Ken lands 1,700 pounds of his 3,200-pound weekly northern cod limit — the amount of fish that Beothic Fish Processors Ltd. had agreed to buy from him. 


AUG. 8th, 2023 

Ken's cod was graded the day after it was landed, presumably when it arrived at the Beothic plant, with the inspector reporting that 60% was Grade A ($1/lb), 30% was Grade B (40¢/lb), and 10% was Grade C (10¢/lb). 


AUG. 11, 2023 

Ken called VOCM OpenLine with Paddy Daley to complain about the grade (he says his cod was mostly all Grade A), and to speak publicly about not being able to find a buyer for his entire 3,200/lb weekly limit. He insists cod should be graded at the wharf.


Aug. 14th, 2023 

Ken calls VOCM OpenLine again to reiterate his position, and explain how many inshore harvesters feel as he does. 


Aug. 15th, 2023

Ken alleges he was informed by a Beothic representative that the company would no longer buy fish from him because of comments made on VOCM OpenLine. 


Aug. 31st, 2023

FFAW files a grievance on behalf of Ken and Wayne Slade, another Carbonear fisherman who also alleged he was dropped by Beothic after speaking out about the grading of his codfish.


Oct. 6,th 2023 

FFAW filed a notice of intent to submit the grievance to arbitration. “The actions of the Company constitute an improper effort to intimidate members from engaging in union and political activity, and to prevent them from speaking about matters of public concern.”


Feb. 2nd, 2024 

Based on the processor’s “unwillingness” to resolve the matter, as well as a legal opinion provided to the union, the FFAW decides not to proceed to arbitration. The three factors noted include: 1) Ken/Wayne did not hold official union positions; the Charter does not apply to interactions between private individuals; and the collective agreement does not oblige a processor to buy fish from a harvester. 


March 2024 

Ken Green files an application with the province’s Labour Relations Board alleging the FFAW-Unifor represented him in bad faith in handling his grievance.


April 19, 2024

FFAW writes Labour Relations Board to request that the complaint be dismissed.


April 19, 2024

That same day Beothic filed a reply with the Labour Relations Board to allege that Ken Green had become abusive with a company employee and his wife over the grading of his fish, and that Ken had refused to have his catch independently graded.

“Beothic asserts that there has been no breach of the Master Collective Agreement, that is well within its rights to not buy product from whatever harvester it chooses, and that there is no basis for a grievance.”

Ken vehemently denies he was abusive with the Beothic employee, and insists he had never spoken to the man's wife. He also says he did not refuse to have his catch independently graded, but requested that his catch be graded at the wharf.


June 7th, 2024

Labour Relations Board rejects Green’s complaint without explanation. Ken says he still has a complaint before the province's Human Rights Commission, and plans to hire a lawyer once he hears back from that office.


From my perspective, the allegations levelled by Ken Green and Wayne Slade (two credible licensed inshore harvesters) were serious enough to warrant an arbitration case at the very least.


The union failed them.


Ryan cleary is a former journalist, Member of Parliament, union leader, and long-time inshore fisheries advocate who’s currently helping to organize a co-operative (fpcnl.ca) for inshore enterprise owners. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own. Contact him at fpc-nl@outlook.com or call/text 709 682 4862.

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