Teamsters leader Ronald Ashlock, a longtime advocate for food processing workers in the Modesto area, died Sunday at a Merced hospital. He was 75.
Mr. Ashlock had been active in Local 748 since the 1960s and served in its top post, secretary-treasurer, from 1986 to 1995.
Union membership in the region has shrunk in recent decades, along with the fruit canning industry, but Mr. Ashlock remained devoted to the labor movement.
"He lived for the union," said Eva Vizcarra, a fellow leader in the local. "He was a man who cared for people."
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A Bee story in 1986 said Mr. Ashlock seemed to embody "the Hollywood version of a labor leader — a big, bruising, intimidating presence."
His wife, Pam Ashlock, said there was more to him than that.
"He was a very good negotiator, and he got along with a lot of the employers, too," she said. "He knew when to be rock-firm and when to soften up a little."
Those employers included Patterson Frozen Foods, now Patterson Vegetable Co. Paul Fanelli, chief administrative officer at the company, said he appreciated Mr. Ashlock's approach.
"Ron was someone who was always doing his best to represent his members, but he also had the ability to sit down with the employer and see the other side of the coin," Fanelli said.
Mr. Ashlock was born in Rush Springs, Okla., on Nov. 27, 1932. He moved to California at age 7 and worked in the fields with his family.
He landed a job at Davis Canning Co. in Atwater in 1962 and became active right away in the union. He became a shop steward in 1965 and served in the early 1970s as vice president, president and office manager for the local.
Its membership peaked at nearly 21,000 in 1972, Mr. Ash- lock said in an another Bee story, but it started dropping in 1975 because of plant closures. Still, he helped keep a union presence in many of the plants that remain.
Mr. Ashlock said his achievements included retiring the $400,000 debt owed by the local when he became secretary-treasurer.
He served as secretary-treasurer and principal officer of the Teamsters California State Cannery Council, representing about 60,000 members. He was an officer with Teamsters Joint Council 38; a trustee on many pension, health and welfare trusts; and a member of a national ethics committee.
Mr. Ashlock was involved in election campaigns and testified against the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He helped organize Christmas meals for homeless people at the union hall and served on the boards of the United Way, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other groups. He helped start programs in job training, literacy, English as second language and drug rehabilitation.
Along with his wife, he is survived by four sons, Ron, Randy, Ricky and Robert Ashlock, all of Atwater; three daughters, Debbie Medeiros of Yerington, Nev., Kathy Pennycuff of Atwater and Carol Parsons of Winton; two stepchildren, Karen Dixon and Albert Arcure, both of Modesto; a brother, Lawrence Ashlock of Stockton; and 24 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by four brothers, a sister and two grandsons.
Services will be Friday at 11 a.m. at Wilson Family Funeral Chapel, 1290 Winton Way, Atwater.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2385.