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Why the snow crab tie-up could go down as the biggest loss for a labour union in decades

The following letter to the editor is printed in today's print edition of The Telegram (June 6th, 2023).


St. John's harbour, looking out The Narrows.



Dear editor,


Not only did the FFAW-Unifor come out on the losing end of the snow crab tie-up, the union has nothing to save face.


There could be no win for the FFAW executive after their own disgusted members ordered the "slush fund" off the bargaining table. The local labour movement would be ashamed, if its back wasn't already turned on the fishery.


Premier Andrew Furey shared a picture on his twitter account on May 19th to mark the agreement to start of the 2023 snow crab fishery at $2.20/lb — the same price set by the price-setting panel on April 6th — 43 days earlier.


I'm not sure which was more shocking: the $2.20/lb ultimately agreed to, or the fact the premier was so eager to have his picture taken near it.



Furey should have dove behind his desk, but then he has come across as politically tone deaf when it comes to the inshore fishery.


“People can’t fish at $2.20,” the FFAW's Greg Pretty said in early April when the panel handed down the price, and the "colossal crab crisis" was upon us.


"There are no economic arguments that can be made to pursue a fishery at this price ($2.20/lb),” he said. “When it comes to dollars and cents, this catastrophe rivals the cod moratorium."


By early May, Pretty said a "guaranteed" $2.20 to the end of the crab season made for “ a really good day,” only his next day must have been pretty shitty when word leaked out about the slush fund.


The FFAW executive had already surrendered leadership control of the tie-up to Bay Bulls fisherman Jason Sullivan, who wasn't fit in their eyes to serve as official president (but with the $2.20 swallowed he's once again dead to Hamilton Avenue).


And then Pretty and Spingle stood shoulder to shoulder with the premier and ASP on May 19th — proud as peacocks — that people can actually fish for $2.20.



The slush fund may have been lost, but at least the union didn't have to dip into its strike fund.


Strikes are illegal in the inshore fishery, and tie-ups are not — although either way workers are off the job and not getting paid.


The union said the agreement was made “on the stipulation” that the premier publicly commit to revamping final-offer selection.


Only the premier said that was not a stipulation at all, although Furey added he's still committed to it.


That's like the union saying provincial Fish Minister Derrick Bragg had agreed to outside buyers for lobster for the 2023 season, and then the minister saying he didn't.


One of the positives from the tie-up is the recognition by the premier that 2022's three-month review of this province's fish price-setting system didn't do the job/was a joke, and he's committed to change.


The premier also said that both the FFAW and ASP declined changes to the pricing system last year, when enterprise owners refused to fish for panel prices and processors refused to buy.


To listen to the FFAW/Pretty the system only broke this year.


Two weeks after the tie-up ended, and Quin-Sea/Royal Greenland is still not buying from the under 40 fleet, and the FFAW executive hasn't opened its mouth.


The union cannot represent small boats and plant workers (and every other fishery sector) at the same time. The tie-up made that clear.


The tie-up could also go down as the biggest loss for a labour union in decades, with zero ground gained for workers.


The FFAW executive did not call the shots with its members during the tie-up, and the union lost credibility to negotiate fish prices for the inshore fleet.


While the market is the market, the government-controlled system of fish pricing here in Newfoundland and Labrador can not deliver a fair-market share to the inshore fleet, and the FFAW can not be trusted to lead the charge for change.


The union lost its way long ago, and the broken system is a result of exactly that.

What to do with the FFAW?


Leave it be. Licensed inshore enterprise owners should join SEA-NL in droves. The time has come for the inshore fleet to rise.


Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL Ryan Cleary


Ryan Cleary, Executive Director, SEA-NL Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization that serves as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. Visit sea-nl.ca to join.

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