Our History

On October 15, 1962, the United Steelworkers Union was certified as the bargaining agent for all hourly-rated employees of then International Nickel Company Ltd. (Inco). Local 6500 was immediately chartered to represent the 15,000 members of the new Steelworkers Local. 

The Local Union membership grew to 18,350 by 1971, but with the advent of higher rates of contracting out and heavy mechanization, and the introduction of new technology, our ranks have since been depleted to its present 2,700. 

In over half a century, Local 6500 has accomplished a long list of outstanding achievements in its 57 year history and we have produced a host of remarkable leaders in fields of labour, politics, public service and education. Most notably, Local 6500 has given our Union three District 6 Directors; Dave Patterson, Leo Gerard and Wayne Fraser. Our most famous son, Leo Gerard, also served as National Director for Canada, International Secretary-Treasurer and presently as the International President of the United Steelworkers Union. 

USW Local 6500 members’ workplaces stretch from Coleman Mine to the west to Garson Mine to the east; a distance of about 80 kilometers. There are six mines still active, with Creighton Mine the deepest at 8400 feet. Creighton Mine also houses the world famous Neutrino Observatory, where Steelworkers Local 2020 represents the technicians and labourers. The Copper Cliff Smelter is the largest surface plant. The massive Clarabelle Mill, Copper and Nickel Refineries complete the surface plants. 

Local 6500 has also been a dedicated and caring neighbour in the Sudbury area community, and follows a tradition of serving the community. 

Local 6500 Officers and members have served on the Board of Cambrian College, Hospital Boards, School Boards, City and area Councils and Greater Sudbury Council. The Local has donated to several causes, including the Cancer Treatment Centre, the Memorial Hospital expansion, a Pulmonary Function Laboratory in 1974, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan, and to food banks and various charities; most recently, $100,000 to the Maison McCullough Hospice. 


In 1963, with President Don McNabb and Staff Rep Terry Mancini, Local 6500 negotiated the first collective agreement with major gains in pensions, life insurance, sickness and accident benefits and wages. For the first time in Inco history, the pension plan formed part of the collective agreement. 

In 1965, Local 6500 purchased the old Canadian Legion building for the sum of $232,000.00. The building would become the new Steelworkers Union Centre. 


1966 was called the “Golden Year of Bargaining”. Inco was comprised of a total of 17 plants with three new mines under construction; North, South and Little Stobie. After months of bargaining, workers in the plants and mines grew angry with Inco’s slow pace of bargaining and by July 15th, beginning with Levack Mine, a wildcat strike completely shut down Inco operations. Two hundred Ontario Provincial Police were sent to Sudbury to monitor the strike. The wildcat ended on August 9th. On September 11th, a legal strike was declared. Three days later, after a second meeting and vote, an exceptional contract was ratified by the membership. Gains included Special Vacations, a 54¢ increase in wages, making Inco workers the highest paid in the mining and steel industries, and the formation of a Union Health and Safety Committee. 

1968 saw vigorous activity in the field of occupational health and safety. Prior to this, Inco Police investigated all fatalities on mining property. The Union and Health and Safety Committee convinced the Attorney General to instruct OPP Officers to investigate fatalities and to accept Local Health and Safety Committee persons to appear as expert witnesses and be given standing at inquests. This was due, in large part, to the leadership and dedicated, well-trained health and safety committee persons. 


1969 will long be remembered for its four-month long, well organized and successful strike, which, nevertheless, imposed much hardship on members and their families. Homer Seguin was Local Union President, with Gib Gilchrist as Staff Rep and Lynn Williams acting as chief spokesperson in negotiations. The strike ended on November 15th, with the Local winning the largest industrial package, including wages and benefits, ever negotiated in Canada or the United States. Gains included a full prescription drug plan, fully paid insurance plan, nine stats, and for the first time, a Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), improved pensions, a Wage Inequality Committee, improved safety and health language and a large reduction in contracting out. 

Subsequently, Company-Union Interim Meetings were scheduled every six months. The objective was to solve issues before they became problems, and several gains can be traced to these meetings. One of the most important was drug, dental and other benefits that were obtained for 14,000 pensioners. 


After 75 days of bargaining, the 1972 Bargaining Committee produced wage increases of 75¢ an hour across the board, early retirement at age 55 with 20 years’ service, 50% pension for widows, vacation bonus and improvements to the grievance procedure, including the new Grievance Commissioner (expedited arbitration) which streamlined certain grievance cases. 

The 1975 agreement was the first industrial package costed at of $4.00 an hour, with significant gains in all areas and included major changes in the structure of occupational health, safety and environment operation. A research fund was also established, with Inco paying $150,000.00 for each year of the contract. 

1978-1979 STRIKE LASTING 234 DAYS 

The collective agreement negotiated in 1978-1979, with Dave Patterson as President, resulted in a strike that lasted 234 days; from September 15, 1978 to May 6, 1979. 

As strikes go, it was an outstanding example of solidarity and wonderful assistance from the community, other unions and unionists across Canada. The new agreement included an improved “35 and out” provision, new COLA roll-ins, 51¢ across the board increase, Supplementary Unemployment Benefits, Cooperative Wage Study, at a total cost of $4.07/hour, the best yet negotiated. President Dave Patterson went on to become District 6 Director. 

1982 was a terrible year in the nickel industry and for members of Local 6500. A full 1053 members were laid off as nickel sales hit the doldrums. While there were no changes to wages and the COLA formula, improvements were made to pensions and other benefits. The Cooperative Wage Study Plan was implemented on June 1, 1983. 

In 1985, the Bargaining Committee negotiated improved contract language in contracting out, tech change and safety and health. A nickel price bonus was instituted, as well as gains in pensions and benefits, incremental wage increases and short term layoff protection (4 months). 


For the first time in the history of collective bargaining, the 1988 negotiating committee accomplished indexed pensions for past, present and future pensioners and survivors. A $1 million fund was established for Inco widows without pensions, as well as major improvements in wages, benefits, contracting out and in contract language. A full “30 and out” pension, regardless of age, was finally won. The USWA Education Fund and the Steelworkers Humanity Fund also came into being. 

The same team negotiated the 1991 collective agreement that included wage increases of 22%, better vacations, increased vacation pay, a protected COLA formula and improved benefits. 

The economy again spelled gloom for the negotiations of the 1994 agreement. Inco wanted certain concessions from the union, but the Bargaining Committee held out for a non-concessionary agreement. An early retirement offer was made by Inco in an attempt to reduce the workforce. The Union negotiated improved pension benefits, which also applied to those who had earlier accepted the Company offer. 

1997 STRIKE 

A strike lasting close to three weeks accompanied the 1997 contract negotiations. The Bargaining Committee identified four key issues that caused the strike: wages, pensions, vacation pay and contracting out. The Committee negotiated a 30¢ an hour across the board increase plus 26¢ COLA roll-in, a pension increase, vacation pay increase and new contracting out language that guaranteed new hires for the life of the agreement. Benefits and contract language were also improved. 

The 2000 contract was called a breakthrough contract for the new millennium. It included improved contracting out language, an improvement in virtually all benefits, pension increase, improved vacations, out-of-country benefit coverage, signing bonus and an increase to vacation pay.