Standing Up for Steel at Gerdau in Whitby, ON

By John Catto, president, Local 6571John Catto on Parliament Hill

The Gerdau steel plant in Whitby, ON produces and markets steel; mainly in the form of rebar and merchant bar for the construction industry. Local 6571 has about 400 hourly workers  and there are approximately 200 management or salaried personnel at the location as well. 

In 2009, we were hit hard by the economic downturn. We went from running flat out – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 4 crews -- to a 2-crew operation and were effectively cut in half. A total of 180 members were laid off on March 2nd 2009. 

Why am I mentioning 2009 today? Because we are still feeling the effects 11 years later. We still haven’t ramped back up to full capacity since then. We have experienced a big training gap due to the lack of hiring between 2009 and 2013, to go along with a multitude of other issues and we are still playing catch up. 


The hardest thing to stomach throughout the whole thing was the amount of steel that came pouring in through the port of Oshawa at the same time. 

In 2009 when our 180 members were on their way out the door, the first ship of the year at the Oshawa harbour contained 17,000 tonnes of Turkish rebar -- rebar that could have been made by our members right here in Whitby. 

The city had a “top hat ceremony” to celebrate the arrival of the first ship in the spring, but our members weren’t in a celebratory mood for obvious reasons. Between 2007 and 2014 it is estimated that over a million tonnes of steel flowed through Oshawa’s port. Meanwhile, a Canadian steel plant that is capable of making that very steel, isn’t running at full capacity, and has had a large chunk of its workforce laid off. It didn’t make sense.

The effects have spread beyond our membership. We have been through three sets of negotiations with the Company since 2009. Due to the poor Canadian steel market, we have had to give concessions on wages, pensions and benefits in order to remain competitive in the steel industry.  

These are good paying blue-collar jobs and we do a decent job of negotiating on behalf of our members, but when our members make less money, our governments collect less taxes, and our communities have less revenue flowing into them. It is estimated that for every job in our plant, there are another five jobs outside of the plant that are being supported. So when our workplace suffers – restaurants suffer, contracting companies, caterers, etc. 

Local 6571 is definitely not interested in a race to the bottom when it comes to compensation for our members.


Many of the infrastructure projects that have happened over the years – bridges along highway 407 for example -- don’t contain any Canadian steel. Even though steel made right here in Whitby is among the highest quality as well as the greenest steel on the planet. 

We melt steel with electricity. Even if you were to remove the dirty old diesel steamer that transports steel from China across the Pacific Ocean from the carbon footprint equation, our process is still cleaner and greener than the offshore product. When you add that steamer back in to the equation – we are miles ahead.

The USW’s campaign to Stand Up for Canadian Steel is of national importance and the four-point plan outlined on our campaign webpage must be a basis for rebuilding the industry that is still reflected in our name and our history.

Stand Up for Canadian Steel. It’s not too much to ask of all our politicians.

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