After losing his federal seat as a Member of Parliament representing the New Democratic Party in the 2015 election, Ryan Cleary ran unsuccessfully for a seat at the provincial level as a Conservative candidate. Cleary has since re-invented himself to become the spokesperson for a group of fish harvesters who are attempting to break away from the union that represents most workers in Newfoundland and Labrador’s fishing industry.
Cleary’s group, the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters (FISH-NL), is seeking to form a union for fish harvesters only. Currently, fish harvesters, fish plant workers and some industrial and retail workers are represented by FFAW-Unifor. While Cleary’s group has not provided any clear plans or objectives for their proposed new union, FISH-NL’s key criticism of FFAW-Unifor has been a perceived “conflict of interest” resulting from the union’s representation of both fish harvesters and plant workers.
FFAW-Unifor has defended its representation of both groups of workers, pointing to recent victories resulting from the joint efforts and united voice of harvesters and plant workers. The Union says the elimination of an unfair allocation policy for northern shrimp and a federal commitment to allocate the first 115,000 metric tonnes of northern cod to inshore harvesters would not have been achieved if workers were divided.
Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff has publicly condemned Cleary’s raiding efforts and has suggested this as an opportunistic attempt to divide the union. Yussuff has said workers’ interests are better served when fish harvesters and plant workers are united. Cleary’s group has held two community meetings to gauge support for a new union and plans to begin card signing efforts in late October.