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Glenn Vinson is a 25-year union member working in New Orleans, La., at Folgers Coffee, the leading producer of retail packaged coffee products in the United States. Vinson has spent 12 years as an elected union official for UAW Local 1805, where he serves as local union president. Since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, with worker displacement and natural attrition, the local represents 380 members, down from 440 before Katrina. The local has represented Folgers workers since 1972.
When Smucker and Procter & Gamble inked the deal to merge the Folgers coffee business with Smucker in 2008, we saw firsthand the value of being represented by the UAW. I honestly feel that if it weren’t for the International and legal representatives being just a phone call away, some of our contract language might have been in jeopardy. Because of the union’s strong commitment to quality and dedication to maintaining a productive relationship, workers have seen themselves come out ahead.
Last year, Smucker announced that it would invest $70 million in their New Orleans facilities and move manufacturing and some distribution work to the Louisiana site. This has been beneficial for both the workers and Folgers because it affords the company the opportunity to grow business and continue to provide workers with job security in a tough economic climate. More than 100 jobs will be added to the Folgers facility, and local economists predict more than 350 residual jobs will be added to the overall New Orleans economy due to this latest investment.
Our local bargaining unit won language that demanded a union and worker orientation to inform newly hired workers on the importance of union dues. I’m convinced this has made all the difference in the world with getting people signed up.
Gwynne Marie Cobb
After 90 years, Ben Gross’s eyes still sparkle when he talks about his 62-year-long partnership with the UAW.
“We broke down a lot of barriers,” said Gross. “Walter Reuther was right there, and if there was a wrong, he knew he could count on me and I knew I could count on him and the UAW.”
Born in McGehee, Ark., on March 17, 1921, Gross moved to Richmond, Calif., in 1949 and became a member of UAW Local 560 when he took a job at Ford Motor Co.
One year later, Gross became the first African American elected to the local’s bargaining committee. In 1954, he chaired the local’s housing committee and was instrumental in creating the first planned interracial community in America sponsored by a labor union.
Gross won the respect of his new neighbors – so much in fact that in 1961, the Milpitas residents elected him to the city council. In 1966, Milpitas residents elected Gross mayor and re-elected him in 1968. Gross was the first black mayor of any predominantly white California town.
In 1971, then-UAW President Walter Reuther appointed Gross assistant director of the union’s Civil Rights Department.
Gross served the union with that fierce passion for fairness until his retirement in 1986. It didn’t take long for him to decide what to do next. He was appointed to the UAW Appeals Committee, which handles the union’s major in-house grievances.
“I didn’t even take a vacation. I never stopped. It does keep me busy,” said Gross.
No matter how many firsts define Gross, he loves being a family man. That is especially clear when he reflects on his recent birthday celebration in Detroit, where a diverse group of friends gathered to celebrate his 90th birthday.
Gross said the best part of the night was having his 20-year-old son, Ashley, sneak home from college to wish his dad a happy birthday in person.
“I thought he would just call me that night,” said Gross, “but he came home.”
“I’ve done a lot of things, but the thing that brings me the most joy now is my family. I want to be around for Ashley,” Gross added. “I want to be around to see him graduate from college.”