One of the top labor officials in the country, Trumka died of as-yet undisclosed causes. The AFL-CIO confirmed his death but did not provide details. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also announced his death in a speech on the Senate floor. President Joe Biden also paid tribute, calling Trumka a “close friend.”
Trumka was the son and grandson of Pennsylvania coal miners and worked as a miner while attending Penn State University, per the Associated Press. He was elected president of United Mine Workers of America in 1982, its youngest president at age 33, and was elected secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO in 1995. He was elected president of the AFL-CIO in 2009.
SAG-AFTRA, Actors’ Equity, WGA East and IATSE are affiliates of the AFL-CIO, which has 12.5 million members.
SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement: “I am devastated to learn of Rich’s passing today. SAG-AFTRA members and all workers have lost a true champion and ally. First and always, a working man, Rich was also an incredible labor leader and a deeply admired voice for the voiceless. He was more than a fellow labor advocate, activist and warrior for the working class; he was my friend and partner.”
She added, “An influential and inspirational leader, he gave his all for the betterment of workers and improved countless lives yet remained at heart, the coal miner from Nemacolin. He was a man of the people. This is not only a huge loss for union members, but for all workers.”
Kate Shindle, the president of Actors’ Equity, called Trumka a “remarkable leader” who “lived his values and encouraged the entire labor movement to do the same.”
“Every labor leader should aspire to champion the rights of workers as he did, while extending his hand in partnership to all who believe in our cause,” she said.
The Animation Guild said in a Twitter post: “We send our condolences to friends, family and the workers he devoted his life to defending. We mourn this great loss to the labor movement.”
Lowell Peterson, executive director of WGA East, wrote on Twitter, “I had the pleasure and privilege of working with brother @RichardTrumka on many projects over the years, fighting for justice for working people no matter the odds. He supported our small union on the picket line and in the halls of Congress. He will be sorely missed.”
Jennifer Dorning, president of the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, said in a statement: “DPE mourns the sudden loss of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Rich dedicated his life to improving the lives of others, whether they were coal miners or computer programmers. This steadfast commitment to fighting for the dignity of everyday people on and off the job measurably improved the lives of workers in every corner of the economy. Rich also ably led the AFL-CIO, bringing America’s unions together to protect the interests of working families in the midst of generational economic challenges. Union professionals and all working people have lost a true friend and leader. My condolences are with Rich’s relatives, friends, and union family at this difficult time.”
Charles Rivkin, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association, said that Trumka was “a tireless champion and fierce fighter for American workers, including thousands of union members who work on productions. His leadership and advocacy helped enact and expand production incentive programs in states around the country that continue to create thousands of jobs and generate much-needed economic growth.”
Vice President Kamala Harris also issued a statement today:
Today, our nation lost a great leader. Richard L. Trumka was a champion of workers everywhere. As the President of the AFL-CIO, our nation’s largest federation of unions, he lived and breathed solidarity. Never afraid of a fight, Rich put the “strong” in “union strong.”
As a young boy, Rich saw firsthand the struggles his father and grandfather faced as they participated in mine workers’ strikes and negotiated for fairer pay and better working conditions. When he first told his grandfather that he’d like to become an attorney to stand up for workers’ rights, his grandfather replied, “If you want to help workers, you first need to help people.”
Rich was dedicated to helping people. He lived his beliefs. That work has dignity. That workers should be respected and have a voice. That justice and equality are hallmarks of a strong nation.
I was lucky to know Rich for many years, and I was always proud to work with him. Today, my thoughts and prayers are with Rich’s wife Barbara, their son Rich Jr., and their grandchildren Richard and Taylor.