The president of an upstart fisheries union says he didn't barge in on an meeting in search of a confrontation with the union that represents the province's in-shore harvesters, but a confrontation is what he got.
Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador president Ryan Cleary and vice-president Peter Leonard walked into the conference room of the Baie Vista Inn in Baie Verte on Wednesday afternoon, disrupting a meeting between executives of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, including president Keith Sullivan, and fish harvesters, about current issues surrounding squid.
What ensued was momentary, aggressive chaos, as Cleary shouted "I tell the truth" and "we want a debate," amid other people yelling and swearing, before meeting attendees physically forced him and Leonard from the room. The RCMP were also called to the incident.
Moments afterward outside the hotel, a still-heated Cleary said his intent was to challenge Sullivan and the FFAW for accountability, as to why the FFAW has been making more media statements as of late.
"My main reason for going up there today was to challenge him to a debate. A debate," he said.
"We didn't want a physical confrontation."
FISH-NL is in the midst of a cross-province tour as part of its membership campaign, the upstart union's second attempt to garner the 4,000 members it needs in order to challenge the FFAW to be able to represent Newfoundland and Labrador's inshore fish harvesters.
'An embarrassing scene'
After the FISH-NL interruption, the FFAW meeting continued for another two hours. Upon its conclusion, Sullivan defended the attendees' reaction to physically remove Cleary and Leonard from the room.
"Everybody in the room said they should leave, and they refused to, so obviously people felt insulted and disrespected," he said.
"It was an embarrassing scene."
When asked if he would be willing to debate Cleary, Sullivan said he would rather speak with fish harvesters directly.
It's a sham and it's a charade. - Ryan Cleary
"That's where real change comes from, not from a spectacle. And I think most people there today who witnessed his behaviour saw that's not someone who's really worthy of a debate," Sullivan said.
Cleary, saying Sullivan had "the guts of a capelin," maintained that the FFAW's recent string of announcements and meetings — such as Tuesday's press conference slamming some seafood processors — is provoked more by FISH-NL's membership drive than a genuine desire to solve issues facing the industry.
"People need to know the difference. They need to understand the truth. It's a sham and it's charade, that's what it is. So I put it to his face," said Cleary.
Sullivan said the FFAW has "always met with people." The union also condemned FISH-NL's interruption on Facebook, calling it a "desperate attempt to get media attention."
FISH-NL's membership drive continues until Nov. 8, when it must submit its results to the province's Labour Relations Board,. The board will the review the results and rule on whether the upstart union meets the criteria to trigger a vote among the province's inshore harvesters.