By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI)—The late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka took one final trip to federation headquarters in D.C. on August 14, when his body laid in repose there that day.
The viewing, which was open to the public, comes as praise and condolences, led by Democratic President Joe Biden’s personal remarks, continued to pour in after Trumka died August 5 of a heart attack at age 72.
Trumka died 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, some eulogists 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.”
Trumka was also a man of his word, Biden said, while other speakers noted he didn’t mince words in speaking up for U.S. workers and on other causes, from civil rights to workers’ rights to economic equality—or lack of it.
“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.”
“Rich was a relentless champion of workers’ rights, and even as we mourn his passing, 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.
“The labor movement, the AFL-CIO and the nation lost a legend—and I lost a dear friend,” she added in another tweet. “Rich Trumka devoted his life to working people, from his early days as president of the UMWA to his unparalleled leadership as the voice of America’s Labor movement.”
The AFL-CIO constitution elevated Shuler to succeed Trumka. She styled herself acting president. She’s the first woman to lead the federation. The next election for officers is at next spring’s AFL-CIO convention.
“The global labor movement has lost a giant,” said Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, Trumka’s ally and successor. “Richard Trumka was more than the leader of the American labor movement, he was an unequaled voice for the workers around the world.
“The hearts and prayers of the entire UMWA family are with his wife, his children and his grandchildren. We will miss him terribly, but we know he has joined Mother Jones, John L. Lewis, William Green, Phil Murray, and all other UMWA leaders who have gone before him. Rest in peace, Brother. I will miss you.”
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.
Other praise, in speeches and tweets, came from union leaders, central labor councils, state labor federations, leading Democrats, and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Some speakers who praised Trumka cited his advocacy of labor’s top current cause, the Protect 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.
“America lost a great leader today. Our country lost a lifelong advocate and organizer for working families. I lost a friend,” School Administrators President Ernest Logan said. “And while we will miss Rich and mourn him, the best way to remember him is to honor his lifelong work. His fight is our fight, and we pledge to continue his journey every day to make sure that working people are paid a fair wage, have a safe working environment, are offered a voice in their workplaces and have respect from their employers.”
“Richard Trumka was a friend, a colleague, and my brother in the fight for workers’ rights in America,” said Teamsters President Jim Hoffa. “Throughout his outstanding career, Rich’s tireless work and dedication improved the lives of millions of union members, and he will be remembered as one of the greatest labor leaders of our generation…I offer our deepest condolences to Rich’s family during this difficult time. He will be missed.”
“The world has lost a true working-class warrior, a prophetic voice for justice, and a champion of the powerless and the dispossessed,” said Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan. “Rich never forgot where he came from, never forgot the value of hard work and those who do it, and knew that working people, from mine workers to Laborers to everyone who toils for an hourly wage, are the greatest asset of our nation and our world. He will go down as one of the great leaders in labor history.
“Working with Richard Trumka was one of the highlights of my career … Whether pushing for greater infrastructure funding, calling for greater workplace safety, advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, standing up for racial justice, or turning out the vote to elect President Biden and Vice-President Harris, Rich was always smart, strategic, tough, and tenacious. The impact of his career, his life, and his legacy will be felt for decades to come.”