AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka, leader of the country’s most powerful labor organization and a close ally of the White House, has died. He is 72 years old.
The cause of death was not immediately announced.
Trumka, who has led the AFL-CIO since 2009, is known for his fiery speeches and vicious attacks on corporate America. He was a vocal supporter of Democratic candidates and a critic of Republicans, and Labor leaders and Democrats praised him and sent his condolences on Thursday.
“Rich Trumka has dedicated his entire life to working people, from being the leader of the United States miners to his unparalleled leadership as the voice of the American labor movement,” AFL-CIO Communications Director Tim Schlitner said in a statement. “He was an unwavering champion of workers’ rights, workplace safety, labor-centered business, democracy and more. He was a devout father, grandfather, husband, brother, coach, co-worker and friend.
“I woke up today with some sad, some terrible news about the death of a great friend, rich Trumka, who left us this morning,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor of the Senate when his voice broke as he lectured himself to compose the lecture. “America’s working people have lost a serious soldier at a time when we need them most.”
“Rich Trumca was the working people of America,” he said.
Ray Curry, the new president of the United Auto Workers’ Union, said, “Working men and women will remember this great man as a beacon of light in these difficult times.”
President Joe Biden addressed Trumka’s death at the White House on Thursday, calling him a “good, close, personal friend.”
Trumka was now a leader not only on economic projects such as the infrastructure bill before Congress, but also on voting rights bills approved by the democratic leadership.
“Without the right to vote, there is no democracy. Without the right to form a union, there is no democracy. There is nothing less than our freedom,” he said in his final speech last month.
His attacks on Republicans can prove his ingenuity and his interest. When Scott Walker, who moved Wisconsin’s governorship to deprive civil servants of the right to bargain collectively, lost a re-election attempt in 2018, Trumca released a one-sentence statement that simply called “Scott Walker a national disgrace.”
But Trumca may also be a critic of Democrats and their policies if they believe they are hurting them Workers. He was a fierce and longtime critic of NAFTA, the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that was passed during the Clinton administration. He praised the US-Canada-Mexico Accord (USCMA) negotiated by President Donald Trump.
“NAFTA was written for the above. It enriched corporations at the expense of working families across North America,” he wrote. Comment paragraph Refers to the USCMA column on CNN in 2019.
While Trumca was a fierce critic of corporate America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised him on Thursday.
“We are deeply saddened by the demise of Richard Trumka, a decent man who earned the respect and admiration of anyone who worked with him, as a fighter and a serious lawyer, and above all,” said Suzanne Clark. Chief Executive Officer and Chamber President. “We have enjoyed many years of strong partnerships based on a lively debate on shared priorities and a common desire to improve our nation.”
Trumka, the son of a coal miner in Nemocolin, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh, went to work in the mines as a young man. But he went to college and law school and soon after graduating from law school he became an employee lawyer in the Washington office of the United States Mining Workers’ Union.
He became the youngest person to be elected President of the UMWA in 1982 at the age of 33 and led the union in a series of strikes over the next 13 years.
He became secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO in 1995, the second highest office in the trade union movement. And he was a tougher, more public voice for the union than John Sweeney, the organization’s most reserved leader at the time.
Elizabeth Schuler, who was elected secretary-treasurer of the committee when Trumca was elected president in 2009, will assume the duties of head of the federation based on its constitution. The AFL-CIO’s executive council is expected to select a permanent replacement later this month. If Schuler is elected, she will be the first woman to serve as head of the organization.
Correction: This topic in this story has been updated to accurately describe AFL-CIO. Story Updated with additional reaction and background information.
CNN’s Christine Wilson and Carl de Vries contributed to the report.
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