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Honoring Richard Trumka

The President of the AFL-CIO passed away Thursday, leaving a long legacy of advocacy for workers

Kris LaGrange's picture
Aug 05, 2021

UCOMM Blog is sad to report the passing of  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. A longtime activist for working people, Trumka has served as the President of the largest labor federation in the nation since 2009.

Trumka was a fierce advocate for working people after getting started in the union movement in 1974 when he joined the United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) as an attorney. The son of a coal miner, Trumka went to work in the mines himself as a teenager before continuing on to college. Trumka would work his way up in the UMWA, becoming President in 1982 as the union's youngest ever President at just 33. As President of the union, Trumka successfully led the union through a nine-month strike against Pittston Coal Company in 1989 and conducted a nationwide strike against Peabody Coal in 1993. Trumka then became the secretary-treasure of the AFL-CIO in 1995, a position he held until he was elected President in 2009. As President of the AFL-CIO, Trumka led the federation through the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic all while continuing to flex the muscle of labor. He fought for all workers, from union members to low-wage workers, and was a strong advocate for immigrant workers and immigration reform. He was a close ally of President Biden and played an instrumental role in getting the USMCA passed with stronger labor protections for workers both in the United States and in Mexico. In the past year, Trumka was an outspoken fighter for not only labor rights but also voting rights as he pushed for not only the PRO Act, and an infrastructure bill, but also for the For the People Act.

Trumka was also a major political player who was often the President's first call when dealing with labor issues. Just days into his presidency both Presidents Obama and Biden had sit-downs with Trumka to discuss labor issues.

An outspoken speaker, Trumka had one of the first Youtube videos to go “viral” in 2008, when he addressed the United Steelworkers convention and challenging the racism of union members that was leading them not to vote for President Obama in 2008.

According to a note that was sent to the staff of the AFL-CIO, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, said that Trumka “was doing what he loved, spending time, celebrating his grandson’s birthday,” when he died. It is believed that he died of a heart attack.

After word of his death came out tributes started to pour in. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor to announce his passing. As he spoke, Schumer could be seen holding back tears as he honored Trumka.

President Joe Biden was also seen holding back tears as he heard about the death of his friend. "He wasn't just a great labor leader, he was a friend," Biden said. "He was someone I could confide in. You knew whatever he said he'd do, he would do."

For more on Trumka’s death, check out this week’s UCOMM Live, which was recorded just moments after his death was announced.

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