Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO Chief, Dies at 72

Richard Trumka, president of the country’s pre-eminent labor federation AFL-CIO for the past 12 years and an influential voice in Democratic politics, died on Thursday. He was 72 years old.

The Federation confirmed the death on a camping trip with family members. The cause was a heart attack, according to an AFL-CIO official, who did not specify where Mr Trumka had died.

The Democratic leader, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, paid a heartfelt tribute in the Senate, saying, “America’s working people have lost a formidable warrior at a time when we needed them most.”

Mr. Trumka was chosen to lead the federation in 2009, its second-ranking officer, after serving as secretary-treasurer since 1995; Prior to this he was the president of the United Mine Workers of America.

With approximately 12 million members, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, as it is formally known, comprise the bulk of the nation’s unions in both the public and private sectors.

Below AFL-CIO ConstitutionLiz Schuler, the federation’s secretary-treasurer, will take over as president until its executive council can meet to elect a successor. The next presidential election of the federation was to be held this year, but was delayed until next year Due to the pandemic.

While the percentage of Americans represented by unions continued its long-term decline on his watch, less than 11 percent, Mr. Trumka was elected during his tenure in two Democratic administrations, Barack Obama and Joseph R. Had a close relationship with Biden Jr. , and was an influential outside voice in helping shape President Biden’s ambitious jobs and infrastructure proposals.

Mr. Trumka handled the AFL-CIO with a reputation as a reformer, both tactically and strategically ambitious, dating back to his days of running mine workers.

In 1989 and 1990, the union waged One month strike against Pitston Coal company The group, which had cut health care benefits to retirees. Striking miners and their labor allies sometimes tried to stop the trucks By transporting coal from the mine. Other workers threw stones and other sharp objects at trucks, although the union urged the strike to be non-violent. The benefit was eventually restored.

Mr. Trumka was the founder of the Jobs With Justice group in the 1980s, which sought to build links between organized labor and community groups, such as civil rights and faith-based organizations, with a commitment from all parties to come several times a year. . in support of each other’s opposition.

For several years as AFL-CIO president, he followed a similar game plan, investing in organizing campaigns and helping to fund labor groups that were not traditional unions, such as undocumented immigrant workers. those representing.

But fellow union leaders and former allies said Mr Trumka became less and less committed Organizing as a priority for the Sangh. document Website obtained by Splinter In 2019, it was found that the federation had significantly reduced its organizing budget as in the previous decade.

Ana Avendano, a former AFL-CIO official, said the federation has begun to emphasize partnerships with so-called worker centers, which help protect and win benefits for marginalized workers but unions are not.

Ms Avendano, who left the federation in 2014, said, “The idea of ​​expanding the labor movement just to build worker power is not something that is in the DNA of leadership.” said in an interview Five years later with the New York Times.

A spokesman for the federation said at the time that the shrinking budget due to declining union membership had made it more difficult to finance such groups, but it continued to prioritize organizing and did not reflect all resources in its organizing budget. it was done. dedicated to that purpose.

Over time, former aides said, Mr Trumka increasingly gained power through the ties he had built in Washington.

While he sometimes chastised the White House’s attitude toward Labor—under President Obama—at one point he was awkwardly squeezed onto the corner of a table for a White House meeting on immigration and “not even his pad.” could open,” Ms Avendeno said – she had strong ties with Biden, the then Vice President, and other Obama administration officials.

Mr Trumka called on President Donald J. Trump also pursued a relationship with Trump, meeting with him at Trump Tower in Manhattan just before his 2017 inauguration and warning that the federation should not criticize Trump personally, only as an ally, according to his policies. Pursuance. He eventually turned against Mr Trump when he concluded the efforts were largely in vain.

“I hoped that we could work together on some of the issues where we had actually agreed,” Mr Trumka said in a 2019 speech. “Well, it’s been almost three years, and I can tell you one thing for sure: Donald Trump is one of the most anti-laborist presidents in American history.”

After Mr Biden enters the White House this year, Mr Trumka receives direct Access to the Presidency, which he used to top labor priorities, the so-called Protecting Right to Organization Act, or PRO Act. The measure would make it easier for workers to unionize, by prohibiting employers from holding mandatory anti-union meetings, and by imposing financial penalties on employers for labor law violations. (Currently no penalties, only absolute measures, such as back pay.)

Mr Biden has backed the law, which Passed the House of Representatives in March, but it faces uncertain prospects in the Senate.

Mr Trumka was instrumental in allaying concerns from more skeptical labor leaders that Mr Biden’s efforts to wean the country off fossil fuels would ravage his membership. After some building trade union leaders reacted harshly for Mr. Biden Decision to cancel an oil pipelineMr. Trumka helped arrange white house meeting Between him and the president, to assure him that jobs for his members remain a top priority.

Sean McGarvey, president of the Building Trade Unions of North America, said he was encouraged by the meeting. “I can tell you that we can’t agree with every decision they make, we haven’t already,” he said in an interview shortly after the meeting. But, he said, “we assured Mr Biden” that building trade unions would be helpful on issues such as infrastructure and COVID-19 safety.

Larry Cohen, a former president of the Communications Workers of America and a longtime friend of Mr Trumka’s, said Mr Trumka had considered running for re-election earlier this year, a conversation he had made about a month ago. that he had decided against doing so.

“In many ways this was the high point for him as an insider,” Mr Cohen said. But, he said, his understanding was that “he was clearly not going to run again.”

Richard Louis Trumka was born on July 24, 1949, in Coal Country, southwestern Pennsylvania, to Frank and Iola (Bertugli) Trumka. He grew up in the town of Nemacolin and followed the path of his father and grandfather to work in the coal mines of the area. He alternated between my work and his studies before graduating from Pennsylvania State University in 1971.

After earning a law degree from Villanova University in 1974, Mr. Trumka went on to work as a staff attorney for the United Mine Workers. In 1982, at the age of 33, he was elected on a reform ticket to head the Mines Workers’ Union.

He is survived by his wife, the former Barbara Vidovich; his son, Richard Jr., who is general counsel on the House Oversight Committee and a nominee for the Consumer Product Safety Commission; a sister, Francis Zalar; and two grandchildren.

Emily Cochran Contributed to reporting. Ellen Delaquerry Contributed to research.

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