Maritime Icon Roman Gralewicz Retires

February 2010

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Roman GralewiczThe SIUNA-affiliated Seafarers International Union of Canada recently announced the retirement of its longtime president, Roman Gralewicz.

Additionally, the SIU of Canada Executive Board elected Michel Desjardins as Gralewicz’s successor. Desjardins had been serving as the union’s executive vice president.

Gralewicz, 79, was president of the Canadian union for 38 years. He earned a reputation as a tough, fair, tireless and effective leader. “Roman Gralewicz is a true champion of the rank-and-file membership, a great labor leader and a trusted friend,” said SIU President Michael Sacco. “He came up through the ranks during difficult times. He successfully guided his union through one battle after another. And whether those fights took place on picket lines, in board rooms or within the halls of government, Roman always got the job done…. His guidance has benefited countless mariners and has inspired people from every segment of the industry.”

Desjardins pointed out that Gralewicz has been part of the union for more than 60 years. “His passion and drive for improving the wages, benefits and working conditions of seafarers over the years was a personal battle for him and a victory for our brothers and sisters,” Desjardins added. “His knowledge and experience are invaluable to us all, and for this reason we have asked him to remain as advisor, a request he was kind enough to accept.”

In a book published in late 2008, Paul Martin, a past owner of Canada Steamship Lines who served as Canada’s prime minister from 2003-06, wrote that interacting with Gralewicz was “not for the faint of heart. We fought like hell, but over time, I acquired a great deal of respect for him. His members were lucky to have him, but the truth is, so was the industry.”

In his final president’s column in the SIU of Canada newspaper, Gralewicz said, “I wish to thank the membership for their loyalty and support during my years as a union officer and president of our great union…. Nothing comes easy; we fought together to get good wages and safe working conditions and proved to people that a sailor is a first-class citizen and must be treated as one.”

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