The late labour leader was on everyone’s mind at the annual day to honour people who have died from work
Homer Seguin and his legacy fighting for workplace health and safety was top of mind at ceremonies held Sunday to mark the Day of Mourning.
The event is held to honour those who have died while on the job, or from work-related illness. United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard told a crowd gathered at Tom Davies that Seguin was an inspirational man who proved that one person can make significant change.
“That scoundrel Homer planned everything,” Gerard joked. “He even decided to die on the weekend of the Day of Mourning.” But in life, Gerard said, Seguin made a huge difference, helping to educate people, as well as sparking legislative changes that have improved the safety of workers everywhere.
“Every one of us could make that kind of difference,” Gerard said, speaking to a packed council chambers. “The last time I talked to him, he said, ‘Leo, when I beat this, we still have more work to do.’ He was in his hospital bed. He didn’t have long to go, but he was still there, talking about the work he had to do.”
Seguin, 79, held many union positions, including vice-president and president of Steelworkers Local 6500. He received a Community Builders Award from Northern Life in 2009 in the safety, health and environment category. His funeral will take place Monday at 11 a.m. at the St. Agnes Church in Azilda.
Gerard said when he, Seguin and others fought for changes, politicians and business leaders told them “it would never happen.
“There’s a huge machine out there that spends a lot of time telling you that’s just the way things are. That you can’t do any anything about it … That’s baloney. We can make a difference. Homer’s life shows that you can make a difference.”
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also paid tribute to Seguin, saying his efforts had helped ensure many men and women came home, healthy and safe, after their shifts were over.
“He was a man who spent half a century fighting for a safe workplace,” Horwath said. “I’m proud to stand with the workers of Sudbury on their day of mourning.”
She chided the current Liberal government for not agreeing to launch an inquiry into the mining industry, something being pushed for by a local committee, Mining Inquiry Needs Everyone’s Support (MINES).
“The government doesn’t know how to do the right thing on their own,” Horwath said. “They need the NDP to show them.”
She said Seguin showed the importance of fighting for workers to be valued as people, rather than as resources needed for production.
“We know that Homer Seguin was someone who fought most of his life, and most of his career was about workplace health and safety,” she said. “He was about valuing the lives of workers.
“It’s very poignant and important to make the call for the inquiry today, especially so close to Homer’s death.”
Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas brought up a very modern case of workplace safety – people who work in tanning salons. She said workers have told her that keeping a tanned look was part of their working conditions, even though tanning is known to cause cancer.
“Many of them have said to me, ‘I have this in my contract. What can I do?” Gelinas said.
Because they’re not unionized and there are no regulations in place, she said all they can do is “choose t lose their jobs, or they can choose to stay tanned.”
In his remarks, Richard Paquin President Mine Mill Local 598/CAW, said two million people a year across the globe lose their lives as a result of their jobs.
“One worker dies somewhere in the world every 15 seconds,” he said. “Work kills more people than war.”
Last year alone, Paquin said 900 Canadians died at work or as a result of sickness or injury acquired at work.
“That’s not acceptable,” he said, urging the crowd to take up Seguin’s cause and “to fight for the living.
“One death is one too many. Everyone should die of natural causes.”
Donna Campbell, of the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, described Seguin as a friend and mentor. He was instrumental in getting the clinic set up, she said, and for raising awareness around the issues.
“I am grieving for Homer — I miss him a lot,” Campbell said. “He was a friend of mine. He taught me a lot.”
It’s important to remember, she said, that not all workplace deaths are immediate. Some cancers, for example, take 10 or 20 years to appear.
“What you’re exposed to today may not make you sick for many years,” she said. “We call them slow moving stalkers of workers.”
At a ceremony at Steelworkers Local 6500 union hall, President Rick Bertrand said getting the mining inquiry would be a fitting tribute to Seguin.
“He dedicated his whole life to health and safety and occupational disease right to his final days,” Bertrand said. “He never stopped. Homer will never be replaced. What we need is more and more people like him to step up and continue the fight he started.
“So I ask you today that we all renew our commitment to fight for the safety of our members, as well as mourn for those who have died.”