Ralph Helstein

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Ralph Helstein
International President of the United Packinghouse Workers of America
In office
Preceded byLewis J. Clark
Succeeded byPosition dissolved
Personal details
BornDecember 11, 1908
Duluth, Minnesota
DiedFebruary 14, 1985
Chicago, Illinois
Alma materUniversity of Minnesota (B.A., J.D.)
OccupationLawyer; trade unionist

Ralph Helstein (11 December 1908 - 14 February 1985) was an American trade unionist and labour leader best known for leading the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) as international president from 1946 until 1968.

Early years[edit]

Helstein was born in Duluth, Minnesota on December 11, 1908 to an orthodox Jewish family. When he was an infant, his father, a garment manufacturer, moved the household to Minneapolis. There, the Helstein family was part of the city's small but tight knit Jewish community, which came with its challenges. "As I was growing up, I had a strong feeling about this question of discrimation," recounted Helstein. "Part of it may be because I was Jewish and when I was a kid, the kids would go along yelling 'sheeny' and I'd be excluded." [1]

There, Mr. Helstein graduated from the University of Minnesota, receiving a degree in English literature.

Helstein first aspired to a career in medicine, but dropped out of pre-med after he didn’t see his name on a posted list of students who successfully passed a required examination. He later learned that it was an error on the school`s part but, by then, he was studying law. He got his law degree from the University of Minnesota in 1934.

Great Depression[edit]

It was the height of the Depression, and, enthusiastic about President Franklin Roosevelt`s concerns and solutions, he went to work for the National Recovery Administration, helping to enforce minimum wage and hour provisions in Minnesota. When the NRA was abolished, he went into private law practice.


  1. ^ Robinson, Cyril (2011). Marching with Dr. King: Ralph Helstein and the United Packinghouse Workers of America. Praeger. p. 12.