Sudbury

United Steelworker leader 'humbled' by new scholarship in his name

Leo Gerard, the former Inco employee who led the the United Steelworkers for 18 years, said a scholarship set up in his name by the union is “humbling.”

Leo Gerard Legacy Fund will contribute to scholarships, lecture series

Leo Gerard retired as president of the United Steelworkers Union in 2019. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Leo Gerard, the former Inco employee who led the the United Steelworkers of Canada for 18 years, said a scholarship set up in his name by the union is "humbling."

The Leo Gerard Legacy Fund, to be awarded to a Laurentian University student enrolled in Workplace and Labour Studies, will be worth $35,000. Part of the fund will also go towards a lecture series with a focus on labour.

"The fact that we're able to do something for Laurentian is also personally meaningful," Gerard said. "A long, long time ago at Inco I demoted myself to get a steady job so I could go to Laurentian at night."

"I wanted to be an...economics teacher but the union intervened, and so be it." 

"I got my start there and I never stopped learning from the local," Gerard said.

With the donation, along with a donation in 2019 worth $200,000, the Steelworkers say they have given the single largest gift from a trade union in the school's history.

The donations come at a time when unions are under fire from Ontario's provincial government. Specifically, the teachers' unions currently embroiled in strike action.

"The thing with teachers is that if you look at their agenda, they're not necessarily fighting for themselves," Gerard said. "They're fighting for the allocation of resources so that class size can be smaller."

"If I think of how hard it is to raise kids, imagine going into a class with 30 or 40 kids and you're teaching them...you want to fight for more access, you want to fight to reduce class sizes."

As for the argument that teachers' unions haven't budged on salary demands during negotiations, Gerard called it "malarkey."

"The fact is that if we didn't have teachers' unions, who would be fighting for the kids?" 

"The mistake is that we get into the debate about whether we need teachers unions or we need labor at all. And the fact of the matter is that unions and teachers unions are the bulwark against less and less services." 

Gerard said that as a father of a child with special needs, he's very concerned about the erosion of the education system.

"We're asking them not only to be teachers, but to be guidance counselors and asking them to be wellness trainers and at the same time increase the number of students that they have to take into their class."

"If you got 40 kids in your class, and you've got two kids with special needs what do you do?"

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