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Fish harvesters from British Columbia join Unifor with historic vote

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Christian Fernsby |
Unifor Organizing Director Kellie Scanlan
Canadian businesses   Unifor Organizing Director Kellie Scanlan

In an historic vote that was years in the making, 245 salmon seine boat fish harvesters on Canada’s west coast who fish for the Canadian Fishing Company have voted overwhelmingly to join Unifor.

“Unifor is proud to welcome these workers into the union. Organizing fish harvesters working in dozens of seine boats in a short season was a challenge, but these workers showed determination and came out strong in support of Unifor,” said Unifor Organizing Director Kellie Scanlan.

The vote was an overwhelming 92 per cent to join United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union (UFAWU), a Unifor local. The vote was conducted last summer, but counting was held up until this week due to employer challenges when the British Columbia Labour Board ordered the votes be counted.

This was the first time a unique BC labour law was applied. Traditional labour laws do not apply to seiners because they are not paid wages, but are paid by the weight and price of their catch. A previous NDP government in BC passed the Fishing Collective Bargaining Act allowing unions to become certified to bargain for fish harvesters.

After years of planning and studying the new law, while building relationships with seine boats crews, seiners began signing Unifor cards last July, with a vote held last September.

A turning point came in early 2018 when Canadian Fishing announced that it would no longer pay into the United Fishermen's Benefit Fund. The fund was first negotiated in the late 1940s and paid death and medical benefits to all Native Brotherhood of B.C. and UFAWU members who fished for participating companies.

“This had been quite a wait with years of planning put behind it building relationships and then ultimately the company took away the benefits that everyone counted on - which united the seiners even more and led to the overwhelming results in favour of joining Unifor,” said UFAWU President Joy Thorkelson.

This vote means the seiners are now part of a full-fledged union local, rather than the voluntary membership status they had previously. As the exclusive bargaining unit for seine boat fish harvesters, the UFAWU will now begin negotiations towards a binding collective agreement with the company.


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