In Memorium: We Salute the Life and Work of Ernie Lofton

    

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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.

The first African-American to lead the union’s National Ford Department will be remembered as a true trade unionist, said UAW Vice President

Ernie Lofton, left, shares a moment with UAW President Owen Bieber and Nelson Mandela when Mandela arrived in Detroit in 1990 to thank UAW members for helping to fight apartheid in South Africa.
Ernie Lofton, left, shares a moment with UAW President Owen Bieber
and Nelson Mandela when Mandela arrived in Detroit in 1990 to thank UAW members for helping to fight apartheid in South Africa.

Jimmy Settles, current director of the National Ford Department.

“Ernie Lofton’s impact as a mentor, friend, pioneer and trade unionist is immeasurable,” Settles said. “He accomplished so much in his long career as an autoworker and as a union activist. All of us stand on his shoulders and we try to make advances for working people today.”

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 was 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 second vice president of Local 600. He was elected first 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.

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, Lofton’s home local, and was presented with an honorary UAW membership.

As committed as he was to directly serving his UAW brothers and sisters, he knew it was important to be active in the community.

“The list of organizations that Ernie Lofton served as a board member for, or otherwise volunteered, is almost endless,” said President Williams. “He took his responsibilities to his community to give back and make his community and beyond a better place very seriously. He upheld a fine UAW tradition in doing so.”

“Ernie Lofton was the model you wanted to follow if you wanted to be a successful, engaged and committed trade unionist and community member,” said Rory Gamble, the current director of UAW Region 1A. “Not a day goes by when you don’t see or feel the influence of Ernie Lofton’s accomplishments. We will miss him greatly but he left us a wonderful legacy that inspires us to reach for his ideals.”

Vince Piscopo


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