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United Steelworkers' International President Leo Gerard
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January 9, 2009

There's no question that change is in the offing for American workers — the economic downturn, Washington bailouts and a new administration are all bound to have a profound effect on our working world. Organized labor is in an interesting spot. On the one hand, some on Capitol Hill and in the press are lambasting the United Auto Workers as greedy and out-of-date. On the other hand, Hilda Solis, arguably the most union-friendly candidate in years, stands ready to be confirmed as Secretary of Labor.

In this changing climate Bill Moyers talks with Leo W. Gerard, president of the United Steel Workers (U.S.W), the largest industrial union in North America about what organized labor wants:

"All we want to do is sit down and negotiate. Negotiation is the cornerstone of democracy as well. And I've threatened and challenged to debate people. Show me a country on earth that is a democratic country that doesn't have a free, strong, independent labor movement. If you crush the labor movement in America, you crush democracy."
Leo W. Gerard

Leo Gerard, photo by Robin Holland

Leo W. Gerard is the International President of the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO, CLC. The U.S.W is the dominant union in paper, forestry products, steel, aluminum, tire and rubber, glass, chemicals, and petroleum.

In his first full term as United Steelworkers International President, Gerard has launched a wide range of new initiatives that have brought more than 350,000 workers into the union's ranks — a sixty-percent increase.

Under Gerard's leadership, the USW has also won tariff relief that helped save the American steel industry, a Workers First law in Canada that gives workers top priority for consideration in corporate bankruptcies, and the landmark Westray Bill that makes corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.

The union's growth over the past four years includes 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), and other smaller independent unions.

The son of a union miner, Gerard started working at Inco's nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. Inspired by a lifelong commitment to economic and social justice, Gerard rose through the ranks to become the first president of the new USW. Before being elected to his first full term by acclamation in 2001, Gerard had served as the Steelworkers' seventh international president, having been appointed to the presidency by the union's International Executive Board upon George Becker's retirement.

The second Canadian to occupy the USW's highest office, Gerard immediately embarked 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 labor agreements that positioned the USW as the decisive force for a humane consolidation of the industry. Gerard also secured a prescription drug benefit for the retirees of liquidated steel companies, financed by hundreds of millions of dollars of VEBA contributions negotiated with the new companies.

Gerard also serves on the U.S. National Commission on Energy Policy and is a founding board member of the Apollo Alliance, a non-profit public policy initiative for creating good jobs in pursuit of energy independence.

Published January 9, 2009.

Guest photo by Robin Holland.

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References and Reading:
United Steel Workers Blog
Check in on some labor priorities at the U.S.W. blog. Leo Gerard as well as a variety of economic thinkers contribute to the frequently updated forum.

"Paulson Deal Cheats American Taxpayers," The Huffington Post, Leo W. Gerard, October 30, 2008
Leo Gerard wrote an open letter to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson in the wake of the bank bailout. The U.S.W. conducted a study which suggests that the American taxpayer paid too much for stakes in troubled financial institutions.

Apollo Alliance
The Apollo Alliance promotes policies and initiatives to speed investment in clean energy technology and energy efficiency and the creation of 'green collar' jobs.

Blue-Green Alliance
The Alliance is a cooperative effort between the United Steel Workers and the Sierra Club with the goal of focusing effort and attention on global warming and clean energy; fair trade; and reducing toxics.

Guest photos by Robin Holland

Published January 9, 2009.

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