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President's Column Winter 2017

Message From the President

Discussion is good. Many years ago, our Union started over a discussion on how best to improve the lives of fish harvesters and plant workers; our Union grew from emotional and difficult discussions on how to manage and share the precious resource that exists off our coast; and our Union will continue to grow as we discuss and work towards overcoming the current challenges and whatever the offshore, the processors, the federal government, the provincial government, or the marine environment throws our way.

Over the past three months, I’ve been to many communities and have engaged in a lot of debates and discussions with members. Many of these debates I understood well. Some of the issues raised were massive in scope, while others were very local. But they were all important to the individual member who raised them and each member spoke with passion about how these issues affected their lives, their families, and their enterprises.

To me, nothing highlights the importance of the Union more than listening to a member talk about their plans for the new cod fishery or how they are not as stressed about money because a Union policy or price negotiation has provided a benefit.

The work that our Union does goes to the heart of our members’ day-to-day existence. As President of the Union, I know this and always have; and I can say with absolute certainty that every member of our staff understands this as well.

When we debate what approach to take on an issue or what new ideas to pursue, the best interests of our members are first and foremost in our minds. We are always trying to get more value, income, opportunities, and rights for our members and we are always fighting to ensure that our members keep the value, income, opportunities, and rights that they’ve already earned.

When we fought for an improved cod fishery with a longer fishing season, we did so because it secured millions of dollars in revenue for our members and because it helped build the cod fishery for the future.

When we negotiate prices, we do so with the goal of achieving the highest minimum price possible for harvesters.

When we fought for changes to Employment Insurance (EI) for harvesters, so that it was based on earnings and not weeks worked, we did so because it would provide the greatest benefit to thousands of our members.

When we propose and manage buyouts, we do so to help harvesters manage incredibly difficult and emotional financial times.

When we negotiate agreements that improve overtime pay for plant workers, we do so because it recognizes their hard work and need for fair compensation. We also negotiate these agreements knowing full well that a gain in income for plant workers does not equal a loss to harvesters with respect to prices. The sector doesn’t work that way.

When we negotiate contracts for tugboat workers, or Molson workers, or hotel workers, we do so to better their lives, primarily through higher wages, but also to ensure that the worker is treated fairly in all aspects of work life.

For the past few months, some people have tried to twist all of the good that our Union has achieved into ways that are divorced from reality. I’m not going to list every misrepresentation, but the overall idea is that we – the FFAW leadership and staff – don’t care and are in this for ourselves.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. All FFAW staff, from myself on down, want nothing more than our members to succeed and be strong. In this sense, the lies and misrepresentations that we have to address every day is frustrating. In an ideal world, the entire membership would meet and talk until we had a common solution and an understanding that we are all stronger together. But for many different reasons that’s not going to happen.

The biggest hurdle to achieving unity and standing strongly together is Fish-NL. We will not let another group destroy the economic, social, cultural, and political gains of our members, no matter what. We would not tolerate any group – another union, the offshore, processing companies – attempting to undo what we’ve achieved together. We owe that to our members whose lives we have a responsibility to improve.

Unlike Fish-NL, when we fight back we are not trying to tear down what has been built. Everything is not a hoax or a scam. There is a true version of events, and when we’re given an opportunity to tell it, our members understand.

And the Cole’s Notes version of the truth is this: In 45 years we have transformed the lives of tens of thousands of workers in this province. We have facilitated the economic advancement for many who never before had that opportunity. We guided the biggest industry in the province through an economic cataclysm and turned it into the economic engine of rural NL. We facilitated the transformation of thousands fish harvesters into the backbone of the rural middle class. And our work is not done; in fact it’s speeding up. Are we perfect? No. But everyday we come to work to make our members stronger.

I hope you’ll continue to join us and take part in this fight. We have a lot of work to do, and we will need to stand together more than ever in 2017.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a safe and joyful New Year.