2023 Program Participants

Panelists presented in alphabetical order

Innovative Approaches to Combating Soaring Health Care Costs

Moderator: Jacques Loveall
President, UFCW 8-Golden State

Jacques is president of UFCW 8-Golden State and chair of UFCW Trust, which funds pension and health care benefits for 125,000 active workers, dependents and retirees in the food and drug industries. He is a vice president of the UFCW International Union and a vice president of the California Labor Federation. He is also chair of the Loveall Foundation for Children, a nonprofit charity dedicated to helping children reach their full potential.

Mark Blum
President, Solidaritus Health

Mark is president of Solidaritus Health and executive director of America’s Agenda: Health Care for All. In his tenure, America’s Agenda has become recognized as a respected national voice of labor leadership at the cutting edge of in high value, care delivery innovation. America’s Agenda has also emerged as a major driver of labor-led health care reform victories in states across the country.

Jen Chen
Chief Growth Officer, Solidaritus Health

Jen is the chief growth officer of Solidaritus Health, where she works tirelessly on figuring out how to bring the best possible concierge-level primary care to as many working Americans as possible. Prior to Solidaritus, Jen’s career spanned diverse aspects of health care and finance, often marrying the two in her passion for finding solutions to soaring health care costs in America. Recognized for her ability to challenge the status quo to drive meaningful change, Jen has held multifaceted roles but always with the same mission-driven mindset. She holds a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an MBA from Columbia Business School.

Catherine Christian
Director of Facilities, Solidaritus Health

Catherine is the director of Property Development for Solidaritus Health Inc. With experience in facilities and construction management at companies such as Sephora, Peet’s Coffee and Tea, and Jamba. Catherine brings a deep knowledge of designing, building, and maintaining customer-friendly, brand-forward spaces. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a lifelong California resident who enjoys time spent with her husband and their two daughters. Together, they watch football, play with their dogs and work on home improvement projects.

Suzanne Gehl, MD
Chief Medical Officer, Solidaritus Health

Suzanne is chief medical officer of Solidaritus Health. She has a broad range of experience as a family physician for more than 30 years. From starting community medical clinics, teaching residents and medical students in family medicine and geriatrics, developing innovative programs, lecturing nationally to other educators, and promoting business development, her focus became Direct Primary Care (DPC) since 2012. She recognized time with patients is crucial in effecting healthy lifestyle changes and overall better health. Delivering high-value health care is not only beneficial, but necessary, to have a positive impact on patients, families, communities and employers. Her mission is to share the keys to success in improving health care delivery. Performing in the top tier of quality metrics throughout her years in DPC, she is enthusiastic to promote this model to as many physicians, patients and employers as possible.

Negotiations, Organizing and Member Servicing

Moderator: Kirk Vogt
Secretary-Treasurer, UFCW 8-Golden State

Kirk is secretary-treasurer of UFCW 8-Golden State, which represents some 35,000 members who work in grocery and drug stores, food-processing plants and offices from the Oregon border in the north to Kern County in the south. Kirk has extensive experience in collective bargaining and is widely recognized for his high standards of service to Union members, his extraordinary talents as a Union administrator and his detailed knowledge of pension and health & welfare trust funds. Over the years, Kirk served in many positions at UFCW 1288, including administrative assistant to the president, secretary-treasurer, recorder and executive vice president of the retail division. In 2006, when UFCW 1288 merged with UFCW 588 to form UFCW 8-Golden State, Kirk was elevated to the rank of senior executive vice president of the new local and then to secretary-treasurer. Since then, he has been deeply involved in almost every facet of the Union’s leadership, from contract negotiations to organizing to management of pension and health benefits. He serves as a union trustee in the UFCW & Employers Benefit Trust of Northern and Central California and the UFCW-Northern California Employers Joint Pension Trust Fund.

Deana Abondolo
President, UFCW Local 342

Deana is president of UFCW Local 342 in New York/New Jersey. She has been a part of the Local 342 organization since she was a child, watching both her grandfather and father lead the organization into the success it is today. As her roles changed and her titles progressed, Deana worked her way through all aspects of the union, such as director of organization, fund administrator, fund coordinator and chief bargainer.

One of her biggest achievements was creating the local’s member services department. She conceived the department in the early 2000s and it is now one of the busiest departments in the local.

Jim McLaughlin
President, UFCW Local 99

Jim is president of UFCW Local 99, the largest UFCW local union in a right-to-work state with almost 22,000 members. Local 99 spans the entire state of Arizona and also represents members in Utah and New Mexico. He is a vice president of the UFCW International Union and is on the boards of Arizona’s AFL-CIO Executive Council and Labor’s Community Service Agency. In addition, he chairs the Desert States Pension Fund and the UFCW Arizona Health and Welfare Fund.

Brian String
President, UFCW Local 152

Brian is president of UFCW Local 152 in New Jersey. His union journey began in 1981 when he became a member of Local 1358 at the age of 14, when he worked as a cart boy at Food Town in Pleasantville, New Jersey. In 1985, he joined the staff of the UFCW International Union and helped organize hospital workers in Atlantic City. Though he was primarily assigned to southern New Jersey, he was instrumental in organizing 13 Vons stores in Fresno, Calif. Throughout the 1990s, he served his local as organizing director, business agent and director of collective bargaining. Brian became president of Local 1358 in 1997, and after a merger in 2005, he has became president of Local 152.

Legislation and Politics

Moderator: Amber Baur
Executive Director, UFCW Western States Council

Amber is executive director of the UFCW Western States Council, which represents 185,000 UFCW members who work in California, Arizona and Nevada. Amber leads the UFCW’s political and legislative efforts in states affiliated with the council. Prior to the Western States Council, she served as political director for the San Francisco Labor Council for more than eight years. Amber was instrumental in building a strategic organization designed to grow support for the contract, bargaining and organizing goals of affiliates while developing and implementing political field and data operations. She also worked with Noreen Evans in her bid for the State Assembly in Northern California as campaign director and then district director once Evans was elected.

Joe Duffle
President, UFCW Local 1167

Joe is president of UFCW Local 1167, which represents more than 21,000 members throughout the Inland Empire in Southern California. Prior to being elected president in 2018, he served as secretary-treasurer, organizing and political affairs director, organizer and union representative. He began his grocery career at the age of 15 when he worked for Safeway in Coachella, Calif. By the time he was 18, Joe was asked to work for the UFCW Western States Council, where he was assigned to Local 1167’s market share program. In addition to his duties to Local 1167, Joe serves on the executive council of the California Federation of Labor and is a former president of the Inland Empire Labor Council.

Dan Pedersen
President, UFCW Local 876

Dan is president of UFCW Local 876, which represents 18,000-plus members throughout the state of Michigan. He was elected as president after being with the local for more than 16 years, during which time Dan served in such roles as member services representative, business agent and secretary-treasurer. In addition to his daily duties, Dan serves on the boards of UFCW United Latinos, the UFCW National Pension Fund and the Heartland United Health and Welfare Fund, and is a trustee on VAPP. Recently, he was the constitutional chair for the 2023 UFCW International Convention, and led the UFCW’s efforts in Michigan to overturn Right-to-Work. His most recent achievement is being elected to the International union’s executive board as an international vice president.

Mark Ramos
President, UFCW Local 1428

Mark Ramos is president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1428 in Southern California. The union represents workers in supermarkets, drug stores, medical offices and other job sites.

Ramos is an active member of the Pomona Democratic Club and serves on the board of Inland Empire Future Leaders. In 2015, he was appointed to the Los Angeles County Consumer Affairs Advisory Commission. In 2017, he was elected as a regional director for the California Democratic Party.

He also currently serves as President of the UFCW Western States Council, the regional coordinating political body of 11 UFCW local unions representing more than 200,000 workers in California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

Rena Wong
President, UFCW Local 663

Rena is president of UFCW Local 663 in Minnesota. She was inspired to join the Labor Movement when she was a college student during the janitors’ strikes in Los Angeles in 2000. Many of the low-wage immigrant workers who were on the picket lines reminded her of her parents. Recognizing what is possible when workers organize, she became a Union organizer the next year. Rena’s goal is to build power for workers by activating Union members, organizing non-Union workers and partnering with other Unions, faith groups and community organizations to improve communities.

Communicating for Results: From Conflict to Cooperation

Marilyn Sherman

Marilyn is the founder of UpFront Presentations. She has motivated and inspired audiences across the country for more than 25 years. Marilyn is a highly sought-after keynote speaker and author who is driven to move her audiences out of their comfort zone and into the front-row of their work and personal lives.

Her engaging and fun personality engages audiences with stories of hope and inspiration along with practical tools to immediately implement into their professional and personal lives.

Marilyn was inducted into the National Speaker Association’s CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame, one of 182 members in the world who hold this designation.

Marilyn is the author of three motivational books including Is There A Hole In Your Bucket List?“, “Whose Comfort Zone Are You In?, and Why Settle for the Balcony, how to get a Front-Row Seat in Life.

Memorable Moments from
the 2023 Food & Drug Conference