On the eve of an independent review into the government-controlled fish pricing system in this province — and coming off the most chaotic year in the commercial fishery in decades — the FFAW’s lead negotiator and secretary-treasurer has quit. Jobs with a $125,000 base salary aren’t easy to come by, but Robert Keenan says it’s time to “work to live”, and not the other way around.
Robert Keenan (podium) replaced Dave Decker (centre) as secretary-treasurer of the FFAW in October 2020. Both Keenan and President Keith Sullivan were relatively unknown to the union rank-and-file before running for office and winning by acclamation.
Keenan messaged me Monday after the news broke to share a detail about his young family, and “kindly ask you go a little easy on me.”
The request was surprising, considering I make it a point to never get personal. I had said to Keenan once before in our only other exchange, “once you get personal, you lose.”
Keenan, who has a law degree, had eight years under his belt with the union as a market analyst and negotiator. Before that he wrote policy papers for Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador.
He was one-year into his first full three-year term as secretary-treasurer. Keenan first took the job by acclamation in 2020 after Dave Decker walked away.
With the exception of fall shrimp, 2022 fish prices (which were a sh-t show) have been set so Keenan isn't leaving the FFAW in an immediate lurch.
But the loss of the union's point man on price negotiations on the eye of a review that may include changes to the collective bargaining model was a shocker.
BAD BLOOD BETWEEN KEENAN AND FFAW?
Keenan handed in his resignation on Friday, July 29th, and in breaking the news Monday the FFAW didn't exactly bowl him over with well wishes: "Secretary-Treasurer Vacancy – Notice of Nomination Period", read the union headline.
There wasn't so much as a kiss me arse.
As well, Keenan's information and picture had already been removed from the union website, and the summer edition of the Union Forum, the FFAW's magazine, does not include a secretary-treasurer's message.
Keenan's last few months in office saw one of the most chaotic periods in the fishery since the '92 northern cod moratorium.
The government system that sets fish prices in this province failed to kick-start commercial fisheries this year, resulting in delayed fisheries (sea cucumber, northern shrimp), while the east coast capelin was a complete write-off.
As a result, the province recently announced an independent review of the collective bargaining model for this province.
KEENAN SUPPORTED PANEL SYSTEM
Basically, the way fish pricing works in this province is a government-appointed panel steps in when the union and processors/buyers fail to agree on a price to be paid to the inshore fleet for a particular species.
Legislation dictates the panel must choose one price or the other, with its final decision “binding” on both sides.
Keenan supported the panel system of fish pricing over its elimination, although he argued for changes such as more than one price reconsideration for both sides.
Which the minister responsible, Bernard Davis, turned down this past winter.
"In a perfect world, there would be no need for a Panel as we would have free competition unhindered by improper influence, punitive behaviour, and favouritism. However, that is not the world we live in," Keenan wrote in the fall of 2021.
The independent review of the panel system of fish pricing may include recommendations for change.
Let's hope so, beginning with an acknowledgement of the fundamental fact that a union like the FFAW with a labour monopoly over all sectors of the commercial fishery (inshore/offshore/plant workers/aquaculture) is too mired in conflict of interest to properly represent any one sector.
Written submissions to the review must be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by 4 p.m. on Friday, Sept 9.
Verbal submissions will be conducted on a "discretionary basis," and will be conducted virtually on Monday, Sept. 12.
SEA-NL will be taking part — take that to the bank.
Executive Director, SEA-NL