This article was originally printed in the Winter 2020 edition of the Union Forum magazine.
FFAW Holds Regional Women’s Meetings
In October FFAW-Unifor held regional women’s meetings in Clarenville and Deer Lake. In the past women gathered every three years for a Women’s Conference held in conjunction with the FFAW Triennial Convention. At the 2018 Convention, a resolution was passed that paved the way for women to meet annually through regional meetings. Yearly meetings will facilitate more women getting involved and finding out about the work of the union. According to Tina Pretty, Coordinator of the FFAW Women’s Programs, “Hosting meetings in the region provides more opportunity for women to participate in union activities and learn more about all aspects of the work FFAW does in a women-only space that is safe and respectful.” These regional meetings are a step in the right direction in terms of providing more accessible venues for women to participate in their union, as many women are unable to attend conferences or meetings due to responsibilities for elder and child are or lack of access to transportation, for example.
Close to 100 women participated in the women’s meetings, representing inshore harvesters, seafood processing workers, and dockside monitors. At each session, after the welcome and opening remarks, women participated in an icebreaker where they learned about noteworthy feminists from Newfoundland and Labrador and across the country.
Election Readiness: Using Your Voice for Change
This was the first of two panels where participants heard from long time Executive Board, Inshore Council and Women’s Advocate Mildred Skinner on her experience running for union positions and in a provincial election. Doretta Strickland, the first woman ever elected as Vice-President of the Industrial/Retail/Offshore division, Unit Chairperson and Women’s Advocate at OCI Triton talked about her own experience running in municipal politics. Both gave women practical advice on standing for office and organizing campaigns. In talking about the importance of solidarity among the diverse membership of the Union, Doretta said, “my husband is a fish harvester and we live in the same house, why can’t we be in the same union?” Women participants worked in groups to identify barriers and solutions to getting involved in politics and raising our voices for change.
Domestic Violence at Work NL Survey
Meeting participates also heard from Jenne Nolan of the St. John’s Status of Women Council on the preliminary results of a recent provincial survey on domestic violence at work and what we can do to reduce violence in our communities.
Getting Active in Your Union
In the second panel session, women listened to three activists on their involvement in the union. In Clarenville, Nancy Bowers, an Inshore Council member and Women’s Advocate told women she didn’t always have a good relationship with her union but by getting involved she learned about all aspects of the Union, the programs and science projects of the FFAW and how she, as a member, could play in role in shaping the work of the Union. Gaining this firsthand knowledge completely changed her perspective on the Union. Karen Caines, an Executive Board member, Unit Chairperson and Women’s Advocate at OCI Fortune told women she followed in her mother’s footsteps in fighting for workers’ rights and gave numerous examples. Sheila Howell from Beothic Fish Processors in Valleyfield, a member of the FFAW Executive Board and Women’s Advocate, talked about her experience in her workplace and lobbying politicians and Workplace NL on the importance of a stand-alone seafood processing safety sector council. At the Deer Lake meeting, Nancy Bowers was joined by Lucy Rumbolt, Vice-Chairperson at OCI Port aux Choix, who spoke about her role in collective bargaining and the gains achieved through solidarity amongst workers in her plant. At both sessions, the panelists gave women encouragement and suggestions on getting involved and demonstrated how women can make an impact in their local, in the community and in the union as whole.
Other topics discussed at the meetings were the successful rally back in March that was attended by both fish harvesters and plant workers that resulted in the reversal of proposed crab quota cuts. Participants also learned more about the Women’s Advocate Program and opportunities for training.
At both meetings, participants discussed how to keep up the momentum and develop more opportunities for collaboration and networking for women in the Union.
One key takeaway from these sessions, heard from both presenters and participants, is the important role of women in the union and the power of the sisterhood. As one panelist said, “put yourself forward, you are enough, and you can be heard.”
FFAW will be holding more meetings in 2020 in different areas of the province so even more women can participate and feel that a woman’s place really is in her union.