Unions Leadership

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president and ‘unequaled voice’ for workers, dies at 72

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Photo: AFL-CIO

Washington — Longtime AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka died from a reported heart attack Aug. 5. He was 72.

A third-generation coal miner who was elected the youngest president of the United Mine Workers of America early in his career, Trumka had served as AFL-CIO president since his election in 2009. He was elected secretary-treasurer of the nation’s largest labor union in 1995.

“He was always there,” President Joe Biden said of Trumka, whom he called a close friend. “He was an American worker, always fighting for working people, protecting their wages, their safety, their pensions and their ability to build a middle-class life.”

AFL-CIO Communications Director Tim Schlittner touted Trumka’s “unparalleled leadership as the voice of America’s labor movement” while offering his sentiments in a press release.

“Today, the 56 unions and 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO mourn the passing of our fearless leader and commit to honoring his legacy with action,” Schlittner added.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts reflected on Trumka’s determination and drive, saluting as inspirational his climb from 33-year-old UMWA president in 1982 to eventual head of the AFL-CIO.

“The global labor movement has lost a giant,” Roberts, who nominated Trumka as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, said in a press release. “Richard Trumka was more than the leader of the American labor movement, he was an unequaled voice for the workers around the world.”

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, in a press release, called Trumka “a role model for me as a labor leader and a partner to me as a public servant,” as well as a valued friend.

“From the commercial airways 30,000 feet in the air to the deepest mine shafts 10,000 feet below ground, there is no part of our world that was not touched by his grace and commitment to what he believed was right,” Walsh continued.

Trumka, who earned a law degree from Villanova University in 1974, worked closely with government and Congress. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) grew emotional Aug. 5 while announcing Trumka’s death to the Senate.

“The working people of America have lost a fierce warrior at a time when we needed him most,” Schumer said. “He had in his veins, in every atom of his body, the heart, the thoughts, the needs of the working people of America. He was them.”

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, offered his condolences in a press release.

 

“Up until his final days, Richard Trumka was rallying workers across the country, demonstrating the spirit and solidarity that defined his tenure as president of AFL-CIO,” Scott said. “Every American worker – whether they are a union member, the child of a union member or have never experienced a union at all – has benefited from his leadership.”

The AFL-CIO constitution stipulates that in the event of a president’s death, the secretary-treasurer “shall perform the duties of the vacant office” and must within 10 days call a meeting of the Executive Council to elect a successor. Liz Shuler has served as secretary-treasurer since 2009, and is the first woman elected to the position.

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