By MARK GRUENBERG
PAI Staff Writer
Washington (PAI) — Praise and condolences, led by President Joe Biden, poured in as news spread of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s death from a heart attack last week at age 72.
Trumka died Aug. 5 while on a family vacation in the South — a vacation he interrupted the day before to rally with members of his home union, the United Mine Workers, in their forced long strike against the Warrior Met coal company in Alabama.
That was typical of Trumka, those who knew and worked with him said.
“He wasn’t just a great Labor leader, he was a friend,” Biden told reporters after calling Trumka’s wife and son to offer his sympathy. “He was someone you could confide in.
“He was always fighting for working people, protecting their wages, their safety, their pensions and their ability to build a middle-class life,” Biden continued. “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.”
‘A SON OF THE WORKING CLASS’
“Richard Trumka was a son of the American working class, and he never forgot where he came from. Over the years he and I worked together on many issues. He was a friend and I am saddened by his passing,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind-Vt.) tweeted.
“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,” tweeted AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, who succeeds Trumka per the AFL-CIO constitution, and is the first woman to hold the presidency. The next election for Federation officers is at next spring’s AFL-CIO convention.
‘VOICE FOR WORKERS AROUND THE WORLD’
“The global Labor Movement has lost a giant,” said Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, Trumka’s ally and successor with that union. “Richard Trumka was more than the leader of the American Labor Movement, he was an unequaled voice for the workers around the world.”
Workers “lost a fierce warrior when we needed him most. We will remember Rich Trumka forever,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted, after announcing Trumka’s death to his colleagues — and having to pause for control while doing so.
Other praise, in speeches and tweets, came from individual union leaders, central Labor councils, state Labor federations, and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
PROTECTING THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE
Some who praised Trumka cited his advocacy – and theirs – for Labor’s top current cause, the Protecting the Right To Organize (PRO) Act, the most wide-ranging, pro-worker Labor law reform since the original 1935 National Labor Relations Act. Others recalled past struggles he joined.
“Our hearts are with the Trumka family, Rich’s beloved @MineWorkers, and all of Labor,” tweeted Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. “What an incredible loss for our movement. I believe Rich would echo the words of UMWA’s angel, Mother Jones: ‘Don’t mourn, organize!’ We must honor Rich by uniting around his lifelong fight.
“This (Pro Act) will be his legacy and we have to act with urgency to honor his lifelong mission to fight for all working people,” her tweet concluded.
GRACE AND COMMITMENT
“From the commercial airways 30,000 feet in the air to the deepest mine shafts 10,000 feet below ground, there is no part of our world that was not touched by his grace and commitment to what he believed was right,” said Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, a member of Laborers Local 223.
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE
Others referenced Trumka’s campaigns for workers, civil rights and for other causes. One was leading the crusade against unfair “free trade” pacts and forcing pro-worker changes in the Trump administration’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Utility Workers President James Slevin called Trumka “an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice, and the nation’s clearest voice on the critical need to ensure all workers have a good job and the power to determine their wages and working conditions. He will be sorely missed.”
ON BEHALF OF ALL WORKERS
“We are thankful for all he accomplished on behalf of working people, particularly recently as he nimbly guided the Labor Movement through an extremely politically divided time, all the while keeping the movement united in the fight for the future of all working people. We are committed to upholding his powerful legacy and the fight for dignity and respect for all,” Office and Professional Employees President Richard Lanigan said.
‘A BEACON OF LIGHT’
Auto Workers President Ray Curry said Trumka kept fighting for workers “to his dying day.”
[He] “understood working men and women in this country are indispensable and are the engine that drives our economy and our communities.
“Anyone who knew him, knew he was a tireless fighter of workers’ rights and human rights. The arc of history will remember this great man as a beacon of light during this trying time for working men and women.”