AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka dead at 72

Richard Trumka, who for more than a decade had served as president of the AFL-CIO, died unexpectedly this week only a day after he appeared via video to send solidarity to striking members of the United Mine Workers in Alabama.

Trumka died on Thursday, August 5, 2021, surrounded by his family. He was 72 and apparently died of what was believed to be a heart attack.

Trumka had the amazing capacity to bring together the various ends of the labor movement. One of his great contributions was to see the common ground between the labor movement and the immigration reform movement.

A third-generation coal miner, Trumka spent his career in the labor movement, serving as president of the United Mine Workers of America, and a member of the AFL-CIO’s executive counsel, as well as on various of the federation’s committees before being elected AFL-CIO president in 2009.

He was remembered as a great leader and a great friend to working people across this country. His death is being called a deep loss for the American labor movement and for working men and women across the country.

Rich was dedicated to his family and he never forgot his family’s roots in Nemacolin, Pennsylvania. Rich died while camping with his family. In many ways, he was in his favorite company in his favorite setting.

“The labor movement, the AFL-CIO and the nation lost a legend today. 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,” said AFL-CIO Communications Director Tim Schlittner. “He was a relentless champion of workers’ rights, workplace safety, worker-centered trade, democracy and so much more.”

“He was also a devoted father, grandfather, husband, brother, coach, colleague and friend,” said Schlittner. “Rich was loved and beloved. 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. Standing on Rich’s shoulders, we will pour everything we have into building an economy, society and democracy that lifts up every working family and community.”

“It’s just horrible news,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “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. Rich Trumka was the working people of America.”

“We have lost a dear friend and brother in the struggle for justice,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, leader of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. “He never separated the fight for economic and labor rights from the fight for voting rights and civil rights. He knew they are simultaneous fights.”

“Rich Trumka had a deep love for New Jersey’s workers and a deep appreciation for our state’s labor movement,” said New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech.

“Rich Trumka had a deep love for New Jersey’s workers and a deep appreciation for our state’s labor movement,” said Wowkanech. “He supported our 1 million members in every way possible, just as he supported every single worker in every sector of labor nationwide, from teachers to construction workers to transit workers to nurses and beyond.”

“Rich Trumka was a force of nature,” said New Jersey State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan. “He devoted his life to ensuring that every man and woman could have what he believed in most – a good union contract with fair wages and a voice in the workplace.”  

“Whether it was his concern for the safety and health of frontline workers during the pandemic or fighting for the right to organize, President Trumka put working men and women first,” said Wowkanech. “He has inspired us since his days as president of the United Mine Workers of America. We will miss his leadership as the voice of America’s labor movement, and we pledge to carry on in his footsteps.”

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