Ron Gettelfinger, former president of the United Auto Workers, will give the keynote address at the Richard H. Merren Jr. Diversity & Community Service Award banquet next week, organizers announced Tuesday.
Seating is limited for the event, which begins at 6 p.m. Aug. 25 in the UAW Local 2209 union hall. Tickets are $20 each or $160 for a table of eight.
This is the first of what is expected to be an annual event honoring Dick Merren, who died in September at age 87.
The native of Honduras came to Fort Wayne in 1948, fleeing an oppressive dictatorship. Merren started out attending Indiana Technical College, now Indiana Tech. He became a naturalized citizen, serve in the Army and return to Fort Wayne.
Memories of gnawing hunger, widespread unemployment and political suppression in his Central American homeland propelled Merren to seek a job in a unionized factory when he joined the U.S. workforce in 1950, first at General Electric and later International Harvester.
That began his lifelong affiliation with the UAW and organized labor. His commitment to labor was unquestioned. He concurrently held the chairmanships of five labor organizations – all volunteer positions – into his 80s.
Merren's love of labor also led him to propose in 1981 that Fort Wayne needed an annual Labor Day picnic – an event that draws thousands each year.
Gettelfinger, who was friends with Merren for 25 years, worked with President Barack Obama to bail out the U.S. auto industry at the depths of the Great Recession in 2009. The native of southeast Indiana was UAW president from 2002 to 2010.
Under Gettelfinger's leadership, the UAW lobbied for fair trade agreements, hoping to avert the loss of American jobs to lower-cost operations in other countries.
An award will be presented during the banquet to Rep. Andre Carson, D-7th. Carson, whose district covers Indianapolis, is one of only two Muslims serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Organizers are offering banquet sponsorships for $50, $100 and $200. Proceeds will be used to create a self-sustaining event, they said. The funds will not be used for Local 2209 operating expenses or political activities.
For more information, call 672-2209.