Unions leaders mourn passing of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

Union members throughout Ohio, including those affiliated with the Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council,  mourned the untimely death of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka from an apparent heart attack at age 72 on Aug. 5. 

Praise and condolences came from around the U.S., led by President Joe Biden.

Up until the end, Trumka fought for his union Brothers and Sisters. The day before he died, Trumka interrupted his family vacation to rally with striking workers from his home union, the United Mine Workers, against the Warrior Met coal company in Alabama.

That was typical of Trumka, some eulogists said.

“He wasn’t just a great labor leader; he was a friend,” Biden said. “He was someone you could confide in.”

Trumka was also a man of his word. He did not mince words when speaking up for U.S. workers and other causes, from civil rights to workers’ rights to economic equality – or the lack thereof.  

“He was always fighting for working people, protecting their wages, their safety, their pensions and their ability to build a middle-class life,” Biden said. “I’ve always believed the middle class built America and I know who built the middle-class: Unions. And Rich Trumka helped build those unions all across this country.”

Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Trumka was a miner, who worked his way up to become United Mine Workers president. He eventually succeeded John J. Sweeney in the AFL-CIO’s top job in 2009.

Trumka pushed the AFL-CIO to focus on grass-roots organizing and grass-roots politics. Labor’s record in that latter field was good, but not outstanding, with wins in some high-profile campaigns and losses in others, most recently at the giant Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala.

Trumka also made it clear to politicians they could not take organized labor’s support for granted unless they gave more than lip service to labor’s agenda. 

With Trumka’s passing, Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, an IBEW member, becomes the federation president. Her appointment to this role will make her the first female president in organized labor’s history. 

“Rich was a relentless champion of workers’ rights, and even as we mourn his passing today, we will stand on his shoulders to continue the fight for workers, and for the fair and just society he believed in so passionately. We will honor his legacy with action,” Liz Shuler shared in a tweet. 

Dorsey Hager, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, praised Trumka for dedication to the labor community. 

“Rich was a tremendous leader,” Hager said. “He was instrumental in getting the most pro labor President of my generation – Joe Biden, elected. He worked for the betterment of all working people – union and non-union.”

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