AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka — who led the nation’s largest federation of labor unions for over a decade and became a potent and often outspoken political force — died at the age of 72, the AFL-CIO said Thursday.
The AFL-CIO announced Trumka’s death in a tweet, saying the organization and the country “lost a legend today.”
The organization did not disclose the timing or cause of Trumka’s death.
“Standing on Rich’s shoulders, we will pour everything we have into building an economy, society and democracy that lifts up every working family and community,” the AFL-CIO said in a statement.
Some of Trumka’s political allies offered condolences Thursday. President Joe Biden reportedly called Trumka a “very close personal friend,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said he “dedicated his life to the labor movement and the right to organize” and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called him a “fierce warrior.”
Trumka was elected president of the AFL-CIO in 2009, following over two decades of leadership positions at the organization and the United Mine Workers of America. As AFL-CIO leader, Trumka helmed a coalition that represents more than 12 million people, a powerful bloc even as the United States’ union membership rate stands at its lowest level in decades. He wielded considerable political influence and typically allied with Democrats, endorsing Biden and former President Barack Obama. Still, his positions often cut across partisan divides. A skeptic of free trade agreements, Trumka chastised the Obama-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership and offered some support for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a NAFTA replacement negotiated by Trumka’s foe, former President Donald Trump. Trumka also criticized Biden for canceling permits for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which conservatives have framed as a job-creator but liberals have cast as an environmental hazard, but he backed plans to require federal employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19, an idea other labor unions have opposed.
A Pennsylvania native, Trumka followed his father and grandfather into coal mining as a young adult. But he still attended college and law school, claiming in one 2018 speech he “often studied underground using the light from my helmet.”