FFAW-Unifor Executive Assistant
What do you say about a man who has headed the Union for 22 years? I guess the first thing that comes to mind is leadership and Earle certainly was a leader. There has been many kind and thoughtful cards and letters sent to the office in recent days, and lots of complimentary commentary in the media of how he was a visionary, a good steward of the union, excellent negotiator and so on – and rightly so.
However, I would like to share the Earle I worked with. In his tenure as FFAW-Unifor President I worked with him for 21 of the 22 years and saw many aspects of Earle that others didn’t see on a day-to-day basis.
First and foremost, Earle is one of the most respectful individuals I have ever met. I observed him in his dealings with members, staff, government officials, media and the general public through the years. If I were to count on my fingers how many times he lost his cool, I’d still be on the first hand (okay, maybe the second hand). He had the ability to listen and calmly put forth his position. He dealt with many challenging issues and faced his share of irate people. If you ended up getting a blast from Earle, you no doubt deserved it. You know who you are.
Earle was always respectful of women. I have never witnessed him tell an off-colour joke. With his intellect, he never needed to stoop to lowbrow humour to get a laugh. Earle would never make a comment on a woman’s clothing or appearance. However, once on the last work day for the year, he commented on my “natty” red gloves.
He was instrumental in creating space for women leadership in our Union through the creation of affirmative action positions on our Executive Board and on our Inshore Council. He also was very supportive of our Women’s Committee and our Women’s Advocate Program and instructed staff to encourage more women to become more engaged in their union.
Earle respected our members and I patched many a call through. He didn’t shy away from dealing with the day-to-day concerns of our members. A lot of people may be surprised to learn how many files he personally worked on considering pre-moratorium we had over 20,000 members.
During the early years of the NCARP and TAGS programs in the early 1990s, Earle created a “Red File”. In this file were the details of members who, through no fault of their own, fell through the cracks and did not meet the eligibility requirements for either of these support programs. It was tough times for these members and their families.
We listened to many heartbreaking stories such as the call from a woman who was grappling with the decision to buy food for the family or back-to-school sneakers for her children. Some members were disqualified because they had been on maternity leave, for others it was through illness, or other extenuating situations. Whatever their personal circumstance, he spent considerable time fighting tooth and nail to get members approved and met with whoever he felt could help get these cases resolved – local and federal DFO and HRDC officials and staff at the Minister’s Regional Office. He even brought the file up at meetings with the Federal DFO and HRDC Ministers whenever he had the opportunity.
I was especially proud of his perseverance and dedication to get a number of women fish harvesters approved as it was obvious their disqualification was a clear-cut case of discrimination. Earle was eventually successful in getting many of these situations rectified. Again, you know who you are.
Earle had respect for his office as Union president and spent long hours in the office, year after year. His work ethic was admirable. He stayed late nearly every night catching up on work while he listened to the Fisheries Broadcast before heading home. Even after a long weekend, it wasn’t unusual to walk into his office and the pile of work and papers that had been there on a Friday afternoon were filed away and a spotless desktop remained.
Of course, this kind of dedication and work commitment also takes away from family time and I know Earle missed more than his fair share of family occasions through work travel inter-provincially, nationally and globally representing our diverse membership.
I had mixed emotions when I learned of Earle’s retirement. I was sad that our work relationship would end as I have so much respect for Earle. However, I was also very happy knowing he would finally have time to spend with family and start another chapter in his life.
If there’s one thing I have learned about him, he won’t be idle for long and as I’ve often heard him say, “I have a plan…”
Happy retirement Earle.