History | FFAW-Unifor | Fish Food & Allied Workers Union

Half a Century of Success

Since 1971, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union has played a vital role in shaping the economic, social and cultural landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador.

They said it couldn’t be done.


Nearly five decades later, the people of the fishing society are still proving them wrong. Learn more about the storied social, economic, and political past of FFAW in Newfoundland & Labrador.



Feb 5, 2019

Father Desmond McGrath moved to the Northern Peninsula and quickly learned that fish harvesters in the region were powerless in the industry of which they were the foundation.

The companies controlled the prices, and fish harvesters had no leverage other than to choose not to go fishing. He discussed the idea of a cooperative or a union with these fish harvesters, and the idea grew.


Feb 5, 2019

Father McGrath called Richard Cashin to suggest the formation of a Fishermen’s Union, when the price of fish was 2.5 cents per pound and fish plant workers – excluded by law from the protection of the provincial minimum wage, were paid less than the minimum wage.


Apr 24, 2019

The House of Assembly of the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act giving inshore fishermen the right to bargain the price of fish. This was the last piece of legislation in the 23 years of government under Joey Smallwood.


Apr 24, 2019

The other daring step in establishing the ability of fishing people to successfully run their own affairs was the creation of the Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company in 1979.

Under the bold leadership of Richard Cashin, the union lobbied hard and successfully to ensure the proceeds from the northern shrimp fishery were used to benefit the people of Labrador, not just line the pockets of some remote fishing company.


Apr 24, 2019

The other major breakthrough in 1980-81 was the successful campaign waged by the Union to win universal Workers’ Compensation coverage for fishermen. No longer would the widows of fishermen lost at sea have to rely on welfare.

A Bill passed by the House of Assembly in 1981 gave fishermen equivalent coverage to other workers with the fish companies – much to their disgust – obliged to pay the premiums.


Apr 24, 2019

The mid-1980’s was a time of severe economic difficulties in the fishery which ultimately led to major restructuring of the deep sea fishery. Unity ‘84 was the Union’s rallying cry in fighting to protect jobs and communities, a foreshadowing of a greater fight to come.


Apr 24, 2019

By 1990, the growth and development of the Union was taking place under the darkening shadow of resource failure. Declines in fishing quotas led to fish plant closures in 1990 that sent shock waves throughout the province.

Once again, the Union was faced with a fundamental challenge to its very survival.


Apr 24, 2019

In March of 1992, in conjunction with others in the fishing industry, our Union organized a massive rally in St. John’s followed by a protest at sea in which a flotilla of fishery vessels sailed outside the 200-mile limit to symbolically claim the nose and tail of the Grand Banks as Canadian territory.

This led to a more aggressive national policy on foreign overfishing that culminated in the turbot war with the European Union in 1995.


Apr 24, 2019

The resource crisis in the fishery coincided with a crisis in public policy in Canada. Conservative and Liberal governments in Ottawa, spurred on by the Reform Party, set about to dismantle Canada’s social programs. Seasonal workers were singled out for attack in a major assault on the Unemployment Insurance program (now known as the Employment Insurance Program).

Ottawa badly underfunded TAGS, the compensation program for fishery workers put out of work by the closure of key fish stocks. In the summer of 1995, the government tried to arbitrarily roll back benefits.


Apr 24, 2019

In November 2014, after 21 years as union president, Earle McCurdy announced his retirement. Two weeks later, Keith Sullivan was elected by union leadership as new president.

Keith is the son of a fish harvester (Lloyd Sullivan) from Calvert, the home of the great Kevin Condon. At 34 years old, Keith represents a generational change for the Union. He worked on the deck of his father’s boat to pay his way through university.

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