Area Labor leaders mourn Trumka’s passing
By TIM ROWDEN
Remembering his leadership on the national stage in making the Labor Movement more inclusive, and locally in helping Missouri defeat phony “right-to-work” legislation, state and area Labor leaders mourned the sudden death of AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka.
Trumka, who led the Labor federation since 2009, suffered a heart attack on Aug. 5 while on a camping trip with his family. He was 72.
“President Trumka was an unwavering advocate for workers’ rights,” said Jake Hummel, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO. “He never backed down from a fight to better the lives of working people of the United States.
“President Trumka was not only someone I admired but I was proud to call him a friend,” Hummel said. “He worked arm-in-arm with us during our battle to defeat ‘right-to-work’ at the ballot box in 2018. He opened doors for so many with his mentorship and advocacy,” Hummel said. “His presence and passion when he entered a room was unmatched. He strove to make the Labor Movement more unified than ever before. His leadership during his industrious career lifted up millions of workers to have better working conditions and thus better lives. He was an advocate for all workers, a successful advocate. He will be greatly missed by all. Rest in Power, Brother.”
‘A TRUE FRIEND’
Mike Louis, retired president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, who led the fight to defeat “right-to-work” in 2018 remembered Trumka’s unwavering support and guidance during that historic fight.
“Today, the working class of the United States of America lost not only a fearless leader but a true friend,” Louis said. “When Missouri workers were in the fight of their lives because greedy corporations and politicians tried to shove the phony ‘right-to-work’ propaganda down our throats, Rich’s heart was here with us during that long fight. Never once when I called upon Rich for advice or help did he deny me. He was always there for all of us. I could go on and on about what this man was all about, but everyone only needs to really know one thing, workers have lost a true friend.”
A third-generation coal miner from Pennsylvania, Trumka followed his father and grandfather into the mines, and put himself through law school while doing so. His father and grandfather both died of black lung disease, caused by coal dust, and he said their fate drove his lifelong commitment to bettering workers’ lives.
“The Labor Movement lost an icon today,” said Pat White, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council. “President Trumka was not only an amazing Labor leader but he was a great friend to the St. Louis Labor Council. He was a generous man and spent many hours on the ground in Missouri to lend his hand and leadership to defeat ‘right-to-work’ in 2018.
“He was on the forefront of fighting for social justice and making the Labor Movement the leader on fighting for what was right and just,” White said. “His years fighting for workers has made our country a better place for all. We cannot express our eternal gratitude. Our thoughts are with his family today. Rest in Power. We will miss you, Rich.”
‘AN INSPIRATIONAL LEADER’
Trumka was a leader who was as comfortable talking to – and often challenging – presidents and testifying before Congress as he was supporting striking workers on a picket line or walking door-to-door to talk with union members and voters.
“President Trumka was an inspirational leader who dedicated his entire life to improving the livelihoods and working conditions for ALL workers, whether union or not,” said John Stiffler, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council. “He will be deeply missed.”
Merri Berry, secretary treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, cited Trumka’s leadership in making the Labor Movement more inclusive. “He was focused on ensuring that each union member had a better life, a better chance to make a strong living in a safe environment for their families,” Berry said.
“His passion extended to even non-union members as he understood that as we rise, all workers rise. His vision and unprecedented steps to push Labor forward was admired by me and many others. He fought with us and opened doors to defeat ‘right-to-work’ at the ballot box and his vision ensured that we increased our union membership in Missouri. The Labor Movement will go on and fight on in his honor.”
‘A POWERFUL VOICE’
Trumka worked his way up from the coal mines to lead the United Mine Workers Union before taking the helm as president of the 12-million-member AFL-CIO.
Tim Drea, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, himself a former Mine Worker, said Trumka was “a true champion for working people.
“He was always a powerful voice for treating workers fairly and served as a great inspiration for all of our state and local union leaders. But even in his role leading 12.5 million members strong in these challenging times, Richard Trumka never lost sight of who he was fighting for: the everyday men and women who needed good jobs to lead better lives for their families.
“He made workplace safety a priority, especially during the pandemic,” Drea said. “He understood how to work with Democrats and Republicans, to build the political support needed to keep working families in the fight. He valued social and economic justice, and I know he would be proud of the strides we are taking today in the name of equality and diversity.”
‘AN IMMEASURABLE LOSS’
Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, called Trumka’s death “an immeasurable loss for the Labor Movement and for all working women and men.
“Rich dedicated his life to improving the lives of American workers and their families and to fighting for the rights and respect that every working person deserves, whether they sweep floors, build skyscrapers, or teach in classrooms,” Drea said.
“Richard Trumka was a real fighter during a period of upheaval and tremendous attacks on Labor. A working man, a unionist to the core. Gracious, tenacious, smart. I was proud to have worked with him and privileged to consider him a friend.”