Heroes on the Front Lines: Penni Cox

Making life-savings ventilators

On March 13, Penni Cox was laid off from her job at the General Motors plant in Kokomo, Indiana.

“Business wasn’t good, and the company was downsizing. We prayed for more work. We were willing to build anything. We just wanted to work,” says Cox. “And now, here we are building ventilators.”

Cox, a mother and grandmother, is a third-generation autoworker and member of UAW Local 292, and is proud and excited to contribute to the COVID-19 fight.

Her husband John, and son Kevin, are members of UAW Local 685. Kevin is laid off from FCA and is hoping to start making ventilators as soon as he gets the call. Her son, Cody, is a member of UAW Local 1166. Her daughter, Kellie, is a medical assistant. “So, union and helping others are very much a part of our family. Not only for my friends and work family at GMCH here in Kokomo, but my own personal family as well,” says Cox.

“We tell our children and grandchildren to give back and pay it forward,” she adds. “Here is our opportunity to show them exactly what that means.”

Cox said she never imagined she would be building medical equipment. “But that is what is needed so that is what we have to do,” she says. “And what we build will be used to save lives. That is a good feeling.”

Is she scared? Yes, she said. But there is a bigger picture.

“We all just want to protect our family and friends,” she says. We’re not on the front lines like doctors and nurses and medical professionals, but this is our way to support the fight. This is history. One day we can explain to our grandchildren that this was the year they couldn’t have a birthday party, but it was the year we helped save lives,” she adds. 

“In Kokomo, we are a very giving community. As a UAW member, this is just who we are. I am hopeful people may bring us other work for our plant. Because as soon as this is over if we don’t get more work, we will lose these jobs,” she says. “We really need it and for them to just pray for our country.”