comscore Longtime AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka dies | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Top News

Longtime AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka dies

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka listened, in April 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka listened, in April 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington.

WASHINGTON >> Richard Trumka, the powerful president of the AFL-CIO who rose from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to preside over one of the largest labor organizations in the world, died today. He was 72.

“The labor movement, the AFL-CIO and the nation lost a legend today,” the AFL-CIO said in a statement announcing his death. “Rich Trumka devoted his life to working people, from his early days as president of the United Mine Workers of America to his unparalleled leadership as the voice of America’s labor movement.”

Trumka had been AFL-CIO president since 2009, after serving as the organization’s secretary-treasurer for 14 years. From his perch, he oversaw a federation with more than 12.5 million members and ushered in a more aggressive style of leadership.

Further details of Trumka’s death, including the cause and where he died, were not immediately available

Eulogies poured in from his Democratic allies in Washington.

“The working people of America have lost a fierce warrior at a time when we needed him most,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after announcing Trumka’s death on the chamber’s floor.

President Joe Biden called Trumka “a close friend” who was “more than the head of AFL-CIO.” He apologized for showing up late to a meeting with Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander civil rights leaders, saying he had just learned Trumka had died.

“Richard Trumka dedicated his life to the labor movement and the right to organize,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Richard’s leadership transcended a single movement, as he fought with principle and persistence to defend the dignity of every person.”

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he was “heartbroken” to learn of the death of his friend.

“Rich’s story is the American story — he was the son and grandson of Italian and Polish immigrants and began his career mining coal. He never forgot where he came from. He dedicated the rest of his career to fighting for America’s working men and women,” Manchin said in a statement.

A burly man with thick eyebrows and a bushy mustache, Trumka was the son and grandson of coal miners. He grew up in the small southeast Pennsylvania town of Nemacolin, where he worked as a coal miner while attending Penn State University.

He was elected in 1982 at age 33 as the youngest president of the United Mine Workers of America. There, he led a successful strike against the Pittston Coal Company, which tried to avoid paying into an industrywide health and pension fund, the union’s website said.

At age 43, Trumka led a nationwide strike against Peabody Coal in 1993. During the walk-off, he stirred controversy.

Asked about the possibility the company would hire permanent replacement workers, Trumka told The Associated Press, “I’m saying if you strike a match and you put your finger on it, you’re likely to get burned.” Trumka insisted he wasn’t threatening violence against the replacements. “Do I want it to happen? Absolutely not. Do I think it can happen? Yes, I think it can happen,” he told the AP.

As AFL-CIO president, he vowed to revive unions’ sagging membership rolls and pledged to make the labor movement appeal to a new generation of workers who perceive unions as “only a grainy, faded picture from another time.”

“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 almost penniless by the time they come out,” Trumka told hundreds of cheering delegates in a speech at the union’s annual convention in 2009.

Comments (7)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up