Leo W. Gerard
United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO, CLC
No labor leader has stood his ground or fought as hard as 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 has focused the United Steelworkers (USW) 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.
He is leading the USW’s drive to restore manufacturing jobs that built the great middle class in the United States and Canada and to prepare for new clean energy manufacturing that represents the future of American industry.
The son of a union miner and activist, 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 was awarded a second honorary doctorate of laws degree, this one from the University of Guelph in Canada, in recognition of his contributions to social justice.
Gerard was appointed International President on Feb. 28, 2001 by the USW’s International Executive Board to succeed the late George Becker, who had retired. That November, Gerard was elected by acclamation in union-wide elections.
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).
In 2005, Gerard led a ticket of International Officers and District Directors who, for the first time in the union’s history, were elected without opposition. He was again re-elected by acclamation in 2009 and was installed in his current term on March 1, 2010.
Immediately after taking office, 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 labor agreements that positioned the USW as the decisive force for a humane consolidation of the industry.
To build bargaining strength, Gerard led the creation of worldwide networks of unions at multinational companies that employ USW members. He has forged mergers and alliances with strong international industrial unions and helped to combat the exploitation of workers in the developing world, who in turn, have supported USW campaigns to challenge renegade corporations.
Mergers and a continuing commitment to organizing under Gerard have made the USW — officially the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union — the largest industrial union in North America and the dominant union in paper, forestry products, steel, aluminum, tire and rubber, mining, glass, chemicals, petroleum and other basic resource industries, in addition to a growing membership in the health care and service sectors.
On the political front, the USW’s efforts to elect worker-friendly politicians have opened doors in Washington, D.C. that were closed to labor unions during the Bush administration.
Signs of that renewed respect included advisory appointments for Gerard in the Obama administration and visits to USW headquarters in Pittsburgh by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who met privately with the International Executive Board.
That improved stature has paid off in trade victories that have helped to preserve and grow jobs in key North American industries including paper, rubber and tires, and steel.
Under Gerard’s direction, the USW has filed more trade law complaints than any other union or any single company. In general, these complaints seek sanctions against foreign companies that receive illegal government subsidies and dump products in U.S. markets at predatory prices.
The USW has unflinchingly stood up to trade-distorting countries such as China under Gerard’s leadership, challenging exploitive practices that have cost USW members jobs and security.
The union’s trade actions include a massive 5,000-page trade complaint targeting illegal government subsidies, currency manipulation and other questionable acts that have helped China corner the emerging market for green technologies.
The Obama administration took up the case before the World Trade Organization (WTO) and initiated consultations with China as part of a longer-term approach to resolving the issues.
China bowed to the U.S. pressure and agreed to dismantle some objectionable practices, including eliminating discriminatory local content requirements and allowing foreign enterprises to qualify for wind power projects with experience gained outside China.
In talks with the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, China also agreed to stop hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of subsidies to wind power manufacturers that violated WTO rules. The subsidies illegally required grant recipients to use key parts and components made in China rather than purchasing imports.
Not all of the issues raised by the USW have been resolved, and the U.S. government continues to monitor the situation. A second case remains a possibility.
Gerard’s doggedness in pursuing unfair trade cases has both produced results for USW members and made him a media target, wrongly labeled by editorial writers as a protectionist while the union is simply trying to enforce the trade laws.
The New York Times called Gerard the “No. 1 scourge of free traders.” The Washington Post tried to dismiss him as a “gruff and perpetually disheveled” former nickel smelter worker.
The USW trade mission is aided by collaboration with other organizations with like perspectives including the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) and the BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the green economy.
With AAM as an ally, Gerard has pushed for the United States to develop a national strategy to return manufacturing back to its formerly pre-eminent position in the economy. Other countries emphasize and support their manufacturing sectors with taxes, tariffs, loans, grants and even higher education guidelines.
“We need a balanced trade agenda that’s going to refocus on exports,’’ Gerard told a nationally-televised panel discussion with leading American industrialists. “We need to have a national strategy to rebuild manufacturing up to 20 percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), and we need to find a way to pay for that, and we need to do it soon.”
Gerard also allied the USW with the American Wind Energy Association, the industry’s leading trade group, to accelerate the development and deployment of wind energy production.
On a larger scope, the union has seen 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), and other smaller independent unions.
In recognition of the regional and global strategies of the USW's multinational employers, Gerard has 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 workers as 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 Mineros, the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Republic of Mexico.
In the last year, the USW and Mineros have moved forward on a pledge to increase strategic cooperation. The two unions share common employers and represent copper miners on both sides of the U.S. - Mexico border. Mineros is currently under legal and political attack in Mexico, and its leader, General Secretary Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, is working in exile in Canada with USW assistance.
Gerard has also exerted global leadership in demanding worldwide standards for workers in the tire, rubber, aluminum, mining and forestry products industries.
In 2002, a year after his first election, Gerard chaired the Second World Rubber Industries Conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 2003, he co-chaired the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) World Aluminum Conference in Montreal, where delegates formed a global network of unions to strengthen workers' rights in the aluminum industry.
As USW President, Gerard was instrumental in the formation of the Industrial Union Council of the AFL-CIO. He is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee as well as serving on its Executive Council. He is also a board member of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department and chairs the AFL-CIO Public Policy Committee.
Internally, as the economic downturn deepened in 2008 and took a heavy toll on manufacturing and the rest of the world’s economy, Gerard led the union through a crisis of declining revenue while avoiding layoffs that would have reduced services provided to members.
It was not his first time steering the union through crisis. While serving as Secretary-Treasurer, Gerard, with other International Officers, put the union on sound financial footing by cutting costs and growing revenues to stem large monthly losses. In addition, he led efforts to restore the financial strength of the USW’s strike and defense fund.
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 that recently merged with the BlueGreen Alliance.
A co-founder of BlueGreen, Gerard also serves on the boards of the Campaign for America’s Future, the Economic Policy Institute and the Elderly Housing Development & Operations Corp., as well as serving as a member of the Labor Advisory Board at Wayne State University.
Gerard has been married to his high school sweetheart for 42 years and has two daughters and two grandchildren.