Leo W. Gerard

The son of a union miner and activist, Leo W. Gerard went to work at a nickel smelter in his hometown of Sudbury, Ontario, at age 18. As a young man, he studied economics and political science at Laurentian University, where he later received an honorary doctorate of laws degree. Gerard has been recognized with honorary doctorates from the University of Guelph and Brock University.

The son of a union miner and activist, Leo W. Gerard went to work at a nickel smelter in his hometown of Sudbury, Ontario, at age 18. As a young man, he studied economics and political science at Laurentian University, where he later received an honorary doctorate of laws degree. Gerard has been recognized with honorary doctorates from the University of Guelph and Brock University.

No labour leader has stood his ground or fought as hard as former International President Leo W. Gerard to preserve and create union-wage jobs that support middle-class families and their communities.

To advance the fight for good safe jobs, Gerard focused the United Steelworkers union on strategic contract bargaining in paper, steel, rubber and other key sectors, while at the same time fighting unfair trade and building clout through political action and domestic and international alliances.

Gerard was appointed International President on Feb. 28, 2001, by the USW’s International Executive Board to succeed George Becker, who had retired. That November, Gerard was elected by acclamation in union-wide elections and served as the USW's International President until his retirement on July 15, 2019. 

Previously, Gerard was the union’s International Secretary-Treasurer (1994-2001), the National Director for Canada (1991-1994) and Director of District 6 in Ontario (1986-1991).

Immediately after taking office as International President, Gerard put the union on a course of renewed activism, demanding — and winning — government action to halt an unprecedented flood of illegal steel imports and negotiating precedent-setting labour agreements that positioned the USW as the decisive force for a humane consolidation of the industry.

Mergers and a continuing commitment to organizing under Gerard have made the USW the largest industrial union in North America, with 850,000 members.

On the political front, the USW’s efforts to elect worker-friendly politicians have opened doors across Canada and the U.S. that were previously closed.  

Under Gerard’s direction, the USW has filed more trade law complaints than any other union or any single company. These complaints seek sanctions against foreign companies that receive illegal government subsidies and dump products in U.S. markets at predatory prices.

Under Gerard’s leadership, the union saw its strength grow through mergers with the American Flint Glass Workers; the Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada (IWA); the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE); the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (Canada); the Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU); the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers International Union (GMPIU); and other smaller independent unions.

In recognition of the increasingly global strategies of multinational employers, Gerard championed strategic alliances and global union networks throughout the world. He played a key role in launching the first trans-Atlantic union, Workers Uniting, a creation of the USW and Unite the Union, the largest industrial union in Great Britain and Ireland. The new union counts 3.4 million active and retired members.

Other alliances include IG Metall, the German metalworkers’ union; AWU, the Australian Workers’ Union; CFMEU, Australia’s Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union; CNM-CUT, the largest metalworkers’ union in Brazil; and SNTMMSRM or Los Mineros, the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Republic of Mexico.

A co-founder of the BlueGreen Alliance, a pre-cursor of Blue Green Canada, Gerard was also elected as a Vice President of the AFL-CIO in 2001.