Waiting game as Fortune plant plan scrutinized

Paul Herridge
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Friday was ‘deadline’ day for a tentative deal that would see Ocean Choice International’s (OCI) Fortune fish plant reopened with increased work early next year.

Members of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union at Ocean Choice International’s shuttered plant in Fortune re-enforced their support of a new proposal to process yellowtail flounder at the plant with a unanimous vote Thursday evening. Paul Herridge Photo

After meeting with union members in the community Thursday evening, officials with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union, including president Earle McCurdy, met with trawlermen who would also be affected by the agreement the following morning in Marystown.

A conference call was held with the union’s executive board Friday afternoon.

Speaking with The Southern Gazette later in the day, Mr. McCurdy indicated the union planned to ask Fisheries Minister Darin King for more time to allow the executive board so they could meet with him to discuss the plan. 

The minister ultimately agreed to sit down with the board yesterday morning, Monday, to air out its concerns. Mr. McCurdy acknowledged, as the agreement stood prior to the meeting, the FFAW could not support it.

Meanwhile, Fortune union members attending Thursday’s meeting expressed disappointment they didn’t get an immediate answer regarding the fate of the deal.

Mr. McCurdy pointed out afterwards the agreement involved significant policy issues that affect union members throughout the province.

“It’s not just a matter of me snapping my fingers and changing union policy. We have our own procedures to follow. We think this is a rushed agenda, but we’re trying to comply with it the best we can.”

By rushed, Mr. McCurdy was referring to the week-long deadline he said the union was given to accept the deal during a meeting involving Mr. Darin King, OCI, Fortune FFAW representatives and the Fortune town council in Gander Oct. 5.

He also indicated the union did not feel what it had been presented with was an official agreement.

“They did send us notes at our request, a general outline, but it’s not like a signed document. It’s a government summary of what the company’s proposal is.

“I don’t think the way we were dealt with on this was very reasonable in any event.”

“It’s not just a matter of me snapping my fingers and changing union policy. We have our own procedures to follow. We think this is a rushed agenda, but we’re trying to comply with it the best we can.” – Earle McCurdy

A spokesperson with the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture clarified Friday the so-called ‘deadline’ was more of a suggestion by the minister, who had asked all parties at the Oct. 5 meeting to get back to him in “short order.”

Under terms of the tentative agreement, according to reports, the provincial government will grant OCI a temporary exemption that will allow it to export 75 per cent of its yellowtail flounder quota out of province for processing.

In return, the remaining 25 per cent would be processed at the Fortune plant, beginning next January, and would help bump employment levels to 110 full-time jobs, for between 35 and 40 weeks of work.

Mr. King told The Southern Gazette Oct. 2 the province was prepared to look at a deal in the best interest of the province, but only if it provided support for displaced plant workers in Marystown and Port Union and also had the support of the union, company and town council. 

“It’s going to be up to all those parties to determine if they’re prepared to cooperate and move forward, and if they are, you’re looking at a good operation in Fortune, with employment for people that are there and some new job openings, and you’re looking at an ability to provide extra support to the displaced workers.”

Union members in Fortune were unanimous in their support Thursday night.

Plant worker Perry Wells expressed the views of many of his colleagues.

“The ultimate thing, we all want to go back to work. We all want to go back to work, and the more work, for the more people, the better.”

Ocean Choice International and the Fortune town council are also on board with the deal. 

pherridge@southerngazette.ca

Organizations: Allied Workers, Fortune union, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture Marystown and Port Union

Geographic location: Marystown, Gander

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