PORT HARDY—Despite the failure of an all-out, three-month effort — including several labour board disputes — to unionize two local seafood businesses, the fight’s not over, a spokesman for the United Steelworkers Union (USW) told the Gazette.
“We have full intentions of going back,” said Stan Beech, business agent for USW Local 1-1937.
“That’s our goal, to get back there in 2012.”
The USW came to town in September after it was contacted by workers at Hardy Buoys Smoked Fish Inc., said Beech.
Keltic Seafoods Ltd. soon followed, he said, intrigued by the union’s incentives of better wages, more benefits, and improved safety.
The process to unionize both shops began in September with the union hoping 45 per cent of workers in each respective business would opt to vote to join the Steelworkers.
If 45 per cent of the workers signed up, a vote among them would be taken and 51 per cent of that number would have to vote “yes” to unionize before the USW could move in to represent them, said Beech.
However, the results at Hardy Buoys indicated the majority of workers were not in favour of joining a union and Keltic workers never voted at all because the required minimum 45 per cent of workers was not met.
Beech said organizers are still scratching their heads in wonder at why the push to unionize failed.
“We had a group of people that we thought were supporting us and at the end they didn’t support us,” he said.
Hardy Buoys owner Bruce Dirom said he had an idea why it failed.
“What the union failed to realize is that in a close-knit community there are siblings, parents, friends working at Keltic, Hardy Buoys and Marine Harvest,” he said.
“People get upset when people try to come between them.”
Keltic senior staff declined to discuss the matter in detail because it was “a sensitive issue.”
However, director Dale Dorward did share a prepared statement.
“Keltic’s been in business for over 10 years now and we’ve had a great relationship with all the employees at Keltic over that time period and we look forward to the next ten years,” he said.
However, a worker at one of the businesses offered his own explanation as to why the union push failed.
“I think a lot of people thought it would be a lot of work and it was only a 10 cent raise after all was said and done,” said the Keltic worker, who asked his identity not be revealed because he feared repercussions.
He also expressed concerns a yes vote would have prompted staff cuts by the management.
“A lot of of new workers would have lost their jobs,” said the worker.
However, Beech said the issues were never really about money.
“Like, somebody who had been hired two years ago at Keltic would be sitting at home while somebody just hired would be working,” he said.
“And then there was safety issues, major safety issues that we were told about and I was asked by some people at Hardy Buoys what was the first thing I would do if we got into Hardy Buoys and I said we would have to take a strong look at safety there, too.”
Beech said during the three-month effort, four or five disputes were brought before the province’s Labour Relations Board by the USW.
The union man wouldn’t go into detail, but did say the United Steelworkers disputed employee lists and it was “very obvious” to the union some things just weren’t quite kosher.
Beech pointed to layoffs that happened at Keltic shortly after the vote was called off, and similar layoffs were announced at Hardy Buoys one week before the planned vote on Sept 26.
However, Dirom said September layoffs are an annual occurrence at Hardy Buoys.
Still, Beech said he and his fellow unionists are undaunted by the setbacks and intend to return in the near future.
“We have a good, strong base there now which we didn’t have there probably before,” said Beech, who added the last effort was a tremendous learning experience.
Dirom said Hardy Buoys is prepared.
“Are we happy with it? No. Are we ready for it? Yes.”
Beech said there is no date set for the next push, but it will happen “when we sit down as a group and think it’s the right time to go back in there.”