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AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka speaks during a news conference outside the AFL-CIO headquarters on July 15, 2021 in Washington, D.C. TTrumka, the President of the AFL-CIO since 2009, died at the age of 72 on August 5, 2021. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

'Fearless and Peerless' Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO Leader, Dead at 72

The labor leader is being remembered as "a relentless champion of workers' rights, workplace safety, worker-centered trade, democracy, and so much more."

Andrea Germanos

Condolences poured in for AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who died Thursday at the age of 72.

“The labor movement, the AFL-CIO, and the nation lost a legend today," AFL-CIO communications director Tim Schlittner said in a statement. 

"Rich Trumka devoted his life to working people, from his early days as president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to his unparalleled leadership as the voice of America's labor movement," said Schlittner, calling Trumka "a relentless champion of workers' rights, workplace safety, worker-centered trade, democracy, and so much more."

Trumka, a native of coal-mining town Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, had led the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO since 2009, a position he was elected to after having served as the group's secretary-treasurer since 1995.

Other union heads were in the chorus mourning Trumka's death and praising his decades of leadership, including his earlier tenure as the youngest president of the UMWA.

“Rich Trumka was our brother in the truest sense of the word," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. She said his death represented "a tremendous loss for the entire labor movement, and for working families across the country."

"From his first mining job in the late 60s, to joining the staff of the United Mine Workers of America and eventually becoming president, to his fierce and courageous leadership of the AFL-CIO for more than a decade, Rich fought his entire life for dignity and respect for American workers," said Weingarten.

In a statement calling Trumka "fearless and peerless," American Federation of Government Employees national president Everett Kelley referenced the late AFL-CIO leader's efforts on behalf of workers during the government shutdown that began in late 2018 under former President Donald Trump.

 “Through every major fight our union has waged in recent decades," said Kelley, "Trumka was standing beside AFGE members, defiantly raising his fist in solidarity. During the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, he rallied all of labor to the steps of the White House to stand up for the 800,000 government workers who went weeks without a paycheck. And behind the scenes, he worked tirelessly to help us end a political standoff that was hurting working people."

Among the Democratic lawmakers offering condolences was Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who said Trumka's memory would be honored by passing the AFL-CIO-backed Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would strengthen workers' rights.

“At a moment when organized labor is making a comeback against corporate forces who have spent billions trying to crush it, Richard's legacy will inspire us to fight every single day for the working men and women he dedicated his life in service to," said Markey. "We should honor him by passing the PRO Act immediately, legislation that Richard fought tirelessly for this year."

Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, similarly pointed to passage of the PRO Act and other "important unfinished work to do" as ways to honor Trumka.

"If he were still with us I believe Rich would echo the words of the great organizer of the UMWA, Mother Jones: 'Don't mourn, organize!' It is in that spirit that we vow to carry on his legacy," said Nelson, "organizing and mobilizing workers."

"We must recommit ourselves as a movement to doing what is needed to achieve his mission for working people: a fair chance to survive and thrive," she added.

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