Inco worker and Steelworkers organizer appointed Companion of the Order of Canada

Mike Edwards   

News People in Process Companion Inco Leo Gerard mining Order of Canada union United Steelworkers

Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers International President Emeritus, has received his country’s highest civilian honour – Companion of the Order of Canada. (Photo: Business Wire)

Leo Gerard, the product of a hard-scrabble northern Ontario mining town who as International President of the United Steelworkers union (USW) became one of the globe’s most indomitable labour leaders, has received his Canada’s highest civilian honour — Companion of the Order of Canada.

Gerard’s appointment was announced by the office of Governor General Mary Simon, who bestows the Order of Canada. Gerard is being recognized “for his vast and influential work in labour advocacy, notably as the seventh International President of the United Steelworkers union,” the Governor General’s announcement states.

Companion of the Order of Canada is the highest of the three levels of the Order of Canada. It is awarded for “outstanding achievement and merit of the highest degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large.”

Gerard, 76, retired in 2019 after serving 18 years as USW International President.

“I want to acknowledge the undeniable fact that this tremendous honour deserves to be shared by so many others, from my family to the members of my great union, to the countless other labour, social justice and political activists whom I was privileged to work alongside for five decades,” Gerard said.

“Leo Gerard’s life mission has been to improve the working and living standards of workers in Canada, the United States and around the world,” said Marty Warren, USW National Director for Canada.

Gerard was born in Lively, ON, a Sudbury-area community dominated at the time by mining giant Inco Ltd. Following in the footsteps of his father, a union organizer, he went to work for Inco at age 18. He soon got involved in United Steelworkers Local 6500, beginning a meteoric rise up the union’s leadership ladder.

After reaching the position of chief steward of his 7,000-member local union, Gerard’s leadership abilities prompted the USW to hire him to a staff job in 1977. He went on to become the union’s Ontario Director, Canadian National Director and then International Secretary-Treasurer, leading to his installation as International President in 2001, a position he held through multiple elections over 18 years.

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