Leo W. Gerard Announces Retirement; VP Tom Conway to Replace Him
PITTSBURGH (PAI) – Making official what he had unofficially disclosed in prior interviews, United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard announced this week that he will retire as head of the largest manufacturing union in North America in mid-July. Vice President Tom Conway will succeed him.
The union executive board approved the changes – including retirements of Secretary-Treasurer Stan Johnson and two more vice presidents, plus promotion of other people, including two top women, to take their seats – as well as a transition plan.
“The decision to announce these changes together will ensure that a capable and experienced group of trade union leaders will hit the ground running as a team,” Gerard said after the board adopted the transition resolution. “It will also pave the way so that the union continues to be on solid footing and that the transition is seamless and serves the best interest of our membership.”
Conway, who will succeed Gerard, has been the union’s international vice president for administration since 2005. Starting as a millwright at Bethlehem Steel in 1978, Conway rose to be a staff representative and eventually secretary of the union’s Basic Steel Conference. He chaired major sector bargaining in steel, mining, aluminum, tires, rubber, oil, and other manufacturing. He was also a big part of USW’s trade enforcement and manufacturing revitalization campaigns.
Gerard, an Ontario native, started his union career at age 18 while working at a precious metals mine and smelter in Sudbury. He rose to local, regional and national posts over 50-plus years. The board elected him president in 2001, following the late George Becker.
Mixing brains, street smarts, a talent for organizing and activism, and the ability to build alliances with other unionists in the United States and abroad, Gerard made the USW a force to be reckoned with.
He jump-started the USW’s political activism with its Rapid Response teams, in ways that other unions have since replicated. Under Gerard’s leadership, the USW filed and won a record number of cases seeking tariffs to punish unfair trade practices that threatened the jobs of USW members.
Building on past work by Becker and former USW President Lynn Williams, the USW under Gerard’s leadership joined with the Sierra Club to create the BlueGreen Alliance. The alliance, which now includes as members nearly every major national environmental group and many other labor unions, advocates for massive reindustrialization, construction of factories to produce green energy components, such as solar panels and wind turbines, unionizing workers and gaining for them good wages and benefits.
Gerard also led the USW in campaigns for social justice. For example, drawing on his Canadian experience and background, he advocated single-payer government-run national health care, which the USW’s Canadian members already have.
He also led the USW in campaigning for workers’ rights, including the right to walk out – as some of the USW’s oil refinery workers had to do several years ago – for safety improvements that protected USW members and their communities.
Gerard also didn’t pull his punches when confronting politicians.
One story, related afterwards by observers in the room, described a closed-door AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in Florida with then-Vice President Joe Biden. When Biden started to extol the Obama administration’s accomplishments without outlining future plans, the room erupted in criticism. Gerard summarized their complaints: “Same old s---.”
And at one USW Legislative Conference in D.C., Gerard bluntly said, out loud, what others, especially in the African-American community, thought: The only reason congressional Republicans implacably opposed, and hated, everything Obama did was that Obama is black. Gerard got a standing ovation.
Gerard championed international alliances, arguing U.S. workers would benefit as they helped raise living standards and guaranteed workers’ rights worldwide. That led the USW, under Gerard, to collaborate with unions from across the world to establish the IndustriALL Global Union, which now represents 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors.
It also led the USW, under Gerard, to establish Workers Uniting, a combination of the USW, the largest manufacturing union in North America, and Unite, the largest union in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland
Gerard ensured the USW staunchly supported the independent Mexican miners and metalworkers union Los Mineros, The USW arranged asylum in Canada for then-exiled Los Mineros leader, Napoleon Gomez Urrutia. With election of a new progressive Mexican government, Gomez Urrutia returned home and now not only heads Los Mineros, but also serves as an elected Mexican senator.
In other USW leadership moves, USW District 1 Director David McCall will succeed Conway as vice president for administration and District 4 Director John Shinn will replace Johnson as secretary-treasurer. Roxanne Brown, the USW legislative director in Washington, D.C., will become an international vice president, succeeding Carol Landry. And Leeann Foster, leader of Women of Steel and a lead paper industry bargainer, will succeed International Vice President Jon Geenen.