Ernest “Ernie” Lofton committed his life to the UAW, his brothers and sisters in the labor movement and to his community. Along his life’s journey, the Local 600 member became a mentor and pioneer for many.
Lofton, who served as a vice president and director of the union’s National Ford Department from 1989 until his retirement in 1998, died Aug. 4 at age 84.
“Ernie was a tireless leader and a man who never gave up,” said UAW President Dennis Williams. “I understand that when he showed up to apply for a job with Ford Motor in 1950, the lines were so long that he had to come back the next day. That is exactly what he did, he showed up the next day just as anxious as the first day. He was hired and never looked back,” said Williams.
“During his life and career, Ernie was a friend, a mentor and a pioneer. He will be remembered as a true trade unionist,” Settles said. “I worked closely with Ernie as a fellow member of UAW Local 600, having the opportunity to watch and learn from his leadership firsthand. He was someone I looked up to. As a mentor, he followed in the footsteps of Buddy Battle and Horace Sheffield in teaching me the true values and responsibilities of union leadership. He helped nurture and guide me as a young union representative and continued doing so even after his retirement.,
“During his time as director of Region 1A and later as vice president and director of the National Ford Department, Ernie’s trailblazing visions have left a lasting mark on our organization. In particular, as vice president, Ernie was responsible for the expansion of the UAW-Ford joint programs which continue to be a great benefit to our members to this day,” Settles said.
Lofton, a U.S. Army veteran, joined Local 600 in 1950 when he hired in as a water tester at Ford Motor Co.’s Dearborn Iron Foundry. He transferred to the Specialty Foundry Unit and soon elected bargaining committeeman. He was elected president of the Special Foundry Unit in 1967, an office he held until 1976, when he was elected 2nd vice president of Local 600. He was elected 1st vice president in 1981 before being appointed to the Region 1A staff in 1982. Lofton served on the 1979 and 1982 UAW Ford National Negotiating Committees. Prior to being elected a vice president, Lofton was elected to lead UAW Region 1A in May 1983 and re-elected in June 1986. He also directed the Michigan Community Action Program Department.
As committed as he was to directly serving his UAW brothers and sisters, he knew it was important to be active in the community.
Ernie Lofton helped to mobilize support in the United States for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. He was among the first to welcome Nelson Mandela on his arrival in Detroit during Mandela’s first trip to the United States after his release from Robbin’s Island prison. He accompanied Mandela on his historic, emotional visit to the Ford Rouge plant where Mandela addressed members of UAW Local 600, Brother Lofton’s home local, and was presented with an honorary UAW membership.
Organizations in which he served as a board or committee member include Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan, the United Foundation; New Detroit, Inc.; the Detroit Police Athletic League; TransAfrica, Save Our Sons and Daughters; Metropolitan Realty Corporation; Detroit Economic Growth Corporation; Detroit Repertory Theatre and the Economic Policy Council of the United Nations of the U.S.S. He was a NAACP National Board Member and vice president of the Detroit Chapter of the NAACP. He was also the national secretary of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
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