UFAWU-Unifor is under new leadership after James Lawson, a commercial fish harvester and active union member from the Haíɫzaqv Nation, was elected president at the union’s recent 63rd convention.
Lawson has experience working as a skipper in salmon seine, herring, prawn and geoduck fisheries and has been an outspoken advocate on social issues in fisheries on the B.C. coast for a number of years.
Helen-Anne Beans, a commercial fish harvester from the ‘Na̲mg̲is First Nation, was also elected as the union’s vice-president.
Beans has experience as a salmon seine, prawn and herring gillnet fish harvester and, like James, has contributed a significant amount of time to both UFAWU-Unifor and the issues facing B.C.’s active fish harvesters.
The convention also saw long-time union member and active fish harvester Guy Johnston elected into the position of secretary-treasurer as well as the election of a new general executive board.
“I think the [newly elected] diverse leadership is a reflection of who wants to keep this occupation and lifestyle alive,” Lawson says. “Young people from diverse backgrounds want to enter fisheries as a career and the older generation wants to continue doing what they know and love.”
Lawson says the new leadership is dedicated to fostering a cohesive union — one that brings together union members to address issues that have faced industry workers for a long time.
“Our backgrounds broaden our understanding and ability to problem solve the long-standing issues that have resulted in hard feelings from all our fractured sections of stakeholders, leaving us unable to pull together on big issues,” Lawson says. “I’m hoping to change that old narrative.”
While Joy Thorkelson, UFAWU-Unifor’s outgoing president, will begin transitioning into retirement, she plans on supporting the incoming president during the move to new leadership.
“I am leaving because I think it’s time for young people to take control of their future,” Thorkelson says. “I think [James Lawson and Helen-Anne Beans] will make the changes that will benefit active fishermen.”