FFAW Co-Founder Des McGrath Passes Away

September 29, 2009, 12:12 PM EST

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FFAW co-founder Father Desmond McGrath passed away this past summer at his home in Stephenville, Newfoundland. He was 74.

McGrath was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in the early 1960s and worked along the province's west coast. It was during this time that he became deeply concerned about the plight of the province's fish harvesters.

In the early 1970s McGrath joined with Richard Cashin in the drive to organize fish harvesters and those efforts led to the formation of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers, who today are part of the CAW family. The FFAW currently represents 15,000 fish harvesters, plant workers and workers from other parts of the Newfoundland economy including metal fabrication, beer bottling, oil tankers and hotels.

CAW/FFAW President Earle McCurdy paid tribute to the work of McGrath in a recent FFAW Union Forum article: "Father McGrath was a person who touched a great many lives," McCurdy said. "His inspiration and vision were driving forces in the process that began 40 years ago leading to the creation of a fishing industry union in Newfoundland and Labrador."

McGrath also worked hard over the years to professionalize the industry and in the late 1980s as the education officer for the FFAW formed the Fishermen's Training Inc. He continued to work to build other boards and councils including the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters.

Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador federation of labour, said McGrath made an important contribution to the betterment of fish harvesters lives.

"He spent a lot of time talking about the importance of education and not just union education, but education generally and the need for, for example, health and safety training for harvesters. He had a great respect for people in the fishery and the work they do," said Payne.     

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