WASHINGTON — Richard Trumka, the AFL-strong CIO’s president who came from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to lead one of the world’s greatest labour groups, died on Thursday. He was 72 years old at the time.
In a statement, the federation confirmed Trumka’s death. He has been the AFL-CIO president since 2009, following 14 years as the organization’s secretary-treasurer. He managed a federation with more than 12.5 million members from his perch, ushering in a more assertive leadership style.
“Today, the labour movement, the AFL-CIO, and the entire country lost a legend,” he added “According to the AFL-CIO. “From his early days as president of the United Mine Workers of America to his unmatched leadership as the voice of America’s labour movement, Rich Trumka dedicated his life to working people.”
More information on Trumka’s death, including the cause and location of his death, was not immediately available.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, announced Trumka’s death on the Senate floor. “America’s working people have lost a great warrior at a time when we most needed him, “he stated
Trumka was described by President Joe Biden as “a personal buddy” who was “more than the leader of the AFL-CIO.” He expressed regret for being late to a gathering of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander civil rights activists, stating he had just learned of Trumka’s death.
Trumka, a big man with thick eyebrows and a bushy moustache, was a coal miner’s son and grandson. He grew up in Nemacolin, a tiny hamlet in southeast Pennsylvania, where he worked as a coal miner while attending Penn State.
He was chosen as the youngest president of the United Mine Workers of America in 1982, at the age of 33, promising that the ailing organisation “will rise again.”
In 1993, at the age of 43, Trumka organised a countrywide strike against Peabody Coal. He sparked debate during the walk-off.
“I’m saying if you spark a fire and put your finger on it, you’re likely to get burned,” Trumka told The Associated Press when asked if the firm would recruit permanent replacement staff. Trumka maintained he wasn’t threatening the replacements with violence. “Do I want that to happen?” says the narrator. Certainly not. Do I believe it is possible? Yes, I believe that is possible,” he told the Associated Press.
As president of the AFL-CIO, he promised to boost union membership and make the labour movement more appealing to a new generation of workers who saw unions as “just a grainy, fading picture from another time.”
In an address to hundreds of applauding delegates at the union’s annual convention in 2009, Trumka said, “We need a unionism that makes sense to the next generation of young women and men who either don’t have the money to go to college or are virtually bankrupt by the time they come out.”
In August 2009, he remarked, “We need to be a labour movement that stands by its friends, punishes its adversaries, and confronts those who, well, can’t seem to determine which side they’re on.”
During the 2011 debate in GOP-controlled statehouses over public employee union rights, Trumka claimed the ensuing furious protests were long deserved.
Trumka expressed hope that then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s law, which attracted thousands of protestors to the Capitol in Madison and stripped public employee unions of their negotiating authority, would rekindle support for unions after decades of decline.
Walker launched a national conversation about collective bargaining “something this country desperately needed,” Trumka said, whether he wanted to or not.
Trumka’s Democratic friends in Washington poured in their condolences.
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “Richard Trumka dedicated his life to the labour movement and the freedom to organise.” “Richard’s leadership transcended a particular movement, as he battled for the dignity of every person with conviction and tenacity.”
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat, said he was “heartbroken” to learn of his friend’s death.
“Rich’s narrative is a classic American one: he was born in the United States, the son and grandson of Italian and Polish immigrants, and he started his career as a coal miner. He never forgot who he was or where he had come from. In a statement, Manchin added, “He committed the rest of his career to fight for America’s working men and women.”