The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
United Steelworkers international president Leo Gerard won’t speak of Homer Seguin in the past tense. Seguin, 79, died last week suffering from diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for years, and a short battle with lung cancer.
His work and his memory won’t be forgotten any time soon. “Homer is my friend, not was my friend,” Gerard told family and friends at Seguin’s funeral Monday at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Azilda.
“Homer is the friend of working men and women all over Canada,” not just today, but into the future. The pioneering work Seguin did with United Steelworkers in health and safety in the workplace and occupational disease will one day save the lives of people who haven’t even been born yet, Gerard told the congregation.
Gerard worked all of his union career with Seguin, who started with Inco at 15 in its notorious sintering plant. While he only worked there seven months, fellow USW occupational disease activist, Johnny Gagnon, 85, said it was exposure to nickel oxide and asbestos there that eventually led to his friend’s death.
Seguin moved up through the union movement, serving as president of USW Local 6500 and director, and Gerard recalled working with his friend in contract negotiations with Vale.
Gerard was supposed to be the bad cop and Seguin the good in negotiations, and they were following those roles until they received the worst proposal on pensions they had ever seen, said Gerard.
Outraged, they met with a company official at 2 a.m., whom Gerard accused of either being incompetent or dishonest. Seguin was supposed to pipe in with a positive comment, but when the company man shook a hand at them with a broken thumb, Seguin told him: “You’re so crooked, you can’t even straighten out your hand.”
Both sides had a good laugh about it.
“Homer was a really terrific negotiator,” said Gerard.
An honour guard of 25 members of United Steelworkers Local 6500 lined the steps leading into the church as Seguin’s casket was being carried in and walked ahead of Seguin and his family.
Seguin’s was a life well-lived, Gerard told mourners, who included Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk, former mayor John Rodriguez, former MPPs Floyd Laughren and Elie Martel, and Richard Paquin, president of Mine Mill Local 598/CAW.
Gerard credited Seguin and Gagnon for lobbying the provincial government to build a cancer treatment centre in Sudbury. Not only were cancer rates high here because of mining, but travelling to Toronto and Ottawa for treatment was posing a financial hardship for families.
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