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Changing Perceptions One Member at a Time

November 16, 2016

By Tina Pretty, FFAW-Unifor Women’s Coordinator

It may seem like a small thing but just learning a bit more about your union can change a person’s perception and turn a negative into a positive. In the case of inshore harvester Nancy Bowers from Beachside, Notre Dame Bay, it went from being a critic of her union to being an elected member of the FFAW-Unifor Inshore Council.

A second generation fish harvester, Nancy has been involved in the fishing industry since 1999 and is a crewmember on her husband Terry’s enterprise. Fishing in NAFO area 3K in their 34’11 and 21’ vessels, they direct for crab, cod, lobster and capelin. She is usually the one who deals with buyers when selling their catch. In speaking of her role, Nancy says, “I’ve always been vocal and the type of person to stand up for my rights.” However, she admits that she wasn’t always a union supporter and had been somewhat critical of FFAW in the past.

That perception changed after she attended the 11th Constitutional Convention as a delegate last November in St. John’s. At this event Nancy learned a lot about her union and the huge effort that is involved in fighting to make the fishing industry benefit those who work in it – namely fish harvesters and fish processing workers. Nancy said she had no idea the union was involved in so many areas. She heard various presentations and panels on such topics as fighting for adjacency, improving incomes and attracting young workers, lobbying government to increase groundfish quotas and preserving the owner/operator and fleet separation policies. She learned more about science work performed by the union and programs such as Traceability, Cod Quality Enhancement and the monitoring the oil and gas industries, tanker traffic, and aquaculture.

Nancy also heard about the challenges that affect her sisters and brothers working in other sectors of our union as well. While the majority of members work in fishery-related industries, they also work in the hotel, brewing, steel fabrication, safety, and cleaning industries. She discovered that we all have one common goal: to have a decent standard of living in order to support our families and maintain our communities.

While at Convention she attended her first women’s conference and heard about the Women’s Advocate Program and how it reduces domestic violence and keeps women working. She found out about shellfish asthma and ergonomics and how they affect processing workers, and how important it is to be healthy in general.

Nancy says that finding out about all the different areas her union is involved in, she now has a better understanding of the benefits of unionization. In talking about the fishing industry, Nancy acknowledges, “harvesters would be paid very little for their catch without their union.”

Inspired at Convention to get involved, Nancy submitted a nomination form for the Inshore Council election held this past spring and was successful in securing one of the Women’s Positions on Council. In talking about the challenges, she looks forward to making a difference. She would like to see more resource, especially cod, for harvesters. And she thinks more women and young people should get involved in the fishery adding, “it’s hard work but [it’s] the best job around”.

Nancy is currently designated an apprentice with the PFHCB and plans on more training in the future. On staying in the fishery Nancy, replies with determination that she’s “in the fishery for the long haul.” When asked about being involved in the union, Nancy replies that it is very important and we need more young people in the fishing industry and would “encourage all members to find out more about the union and to realize that the union is THEIR union”.