'We're here for our community'
Fifty years ago, on Oct. 15, 1962, Steelworkers Local 6500 was born.
At the time, the union represented workers at one of the city's major mining companies, Inco Ltd. Local 6500 now represents local workers at Vale, which bought out Inco six years ago.
“For the Steelworkers to be here 50 years, it's just a great honour to be president during this time,” Rick Bertrand, the union's current president, said.
“We're still going through some battles, like we did 50 years ago, but we're still here. We're here for our community and we're here for our membership.”
These battles include several lengthy strikes, including the nine-month-long strike of 1978-1979 and the more recent year-long strike of 2009-2010.
But through the contracts negotiated by the union, Local 6500 has brought wealth to its members, and by extension the community, and has ensured better working conditions for miners, Bertrand said.
“We've fought for fair wages, we've fought for health and safety, we've fought for benefits,” he said.
“In that sense, we did a lot for our membership. We're going to continue to fight hard, and provide for our present workers and for our future workers.”
Another troubling time for the union came in 2008, when its Frood Street union hall burned down. Local 6500 has rebounded from that loss, and celebrated the opening of the new Steelworkers Hall on Brady Street earlier this year.
The union has also contributed to many big and small community causes, Bertrand said, speaking to Northern Life at a Oct. 17 press conference launching Warmhearts Palliative Caregivers' Unsung Heroes Ball, which the union is sponsoring.
Local 6500 is well known for its support of causes such as the Edgar Burton Food Drive and Health Sciences North's Children's Treatment Centre, he said.
“But there's a lot people don't see,” Bertrand said. “There's the little donations of $200 or $500 or $1,000. People always tend to see the big donations of $500,000 or $100,000. We do so much more than that.”
The union will have a small anniversary celebration after its monthly membership meeting Oct. 17, with snacks and fellowship.
A bigger celebration of the milestone will take place in February at the yearly gala for the union's activists.
“It's a great event that we have,” Bertrand said. “I thought that it would be a perfect fit.”