Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, dies; The Catholic faith shaped his career

Longtime AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, seen here in September 2013, passed away on August 5 at the age of 72. Trumka, a Catholic, had been president of the 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO since 2009. (CNS photo / Kevork Djansezian, Reuters)

Washington – Richard Trumka, 72, president of the AFL-CIO since 2009 and secretary-treasurer of the Federation of Labor for 14 years previously, died on August 5 of a heart attack.

The faith of Trumka, a Catholic born to a Polish father and Italian mother, helped shape a lifelong career in the labor movement.

“The teachings of the church taught me fairness, workers’ rights and human rights – and the protection of those human rights and of these workers,” Trumka said in an interview in 2010 with Catholic News Service.

The church “has also taught me that we have to help others,” he added. “In this job, I have more opportunities to help people get on with it and get a good shake up, get a job, get a fair deal, than I would have anywhere. where else. And it’s exciting. “

Trumka led the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO through more than a decade of hardship, as the percentage of American workers represented by unions continued to slowly but steadily erode. Those who were unionized often faced callous employers – and workers who organized for union representation faced hostility and threats of dismissal and job loss.

He has moderated a number of symposia on labor issues at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington. Catholics who appeared as panelists included Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, now retired Archbishop of Washington, as well as John Carr, founder and currently co-director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at the University of Georgetown, and political writer Melinda Henneberger, then presenter of the women’s blog “She the People” at the Washington Post.

Richard Trumka, then secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, addresses strikers and supporters of the newspaper at a rally outside the Detroit News building in August 1996. Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, Trumka, chairman of AFL-CIO John Sweeney (right) and several others were

Richard Trumka, then secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, addresses strikers and supporters of the newspaper at a rally outside the Detroit News building in August 1996. Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, Trumka, chairman of AFL-CIO John Sweeney (right) and several others were arrested in a peaceful act of civil disobedience during the rally in support of the 14-month strike. (Reuters CNS photo)

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, Trumka had issued a statement as part of a “Daily Brief” emailed every weekday by the AFL-CIO. In his August 4 post, the last one published before his death, he focused on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s extension of a moratorium on evictions.

“I applaud the CDC for taking action. And I urge Congress to pass legislation that extends the moratorium. During a pandemic, people shouldn’t worry about keeping a roof over their heads.” , said Trumka.

“I especially want to recognize the leadership of Representative Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Who organized lawmakers and activists for five days on the Capitol Steps. She pushed Congress and the nation to see the struggle of the people who are currently homeless or threatened with eviction. “

Trumka wrote often about the Right to Organize Protection Act, or PRO Act, which would allow workers to organize without interference from the employer. A similar bill 11 years ago, the Employee Free Choice Act, has not survived a threat of filibuster.

Regarding the organization, “I believe the Catholic Church – my church – should be a leader in human rights, which includes workers’ rights,” he told CNS, adding that religious institutions should not engage in “scandalous conduct” such as harassment of workers. who want to organize.

“I hope the Catholic Church will be the living and shining star of best practice,” added Trumka, who writes an occasional column for CNS.

Richard L. Trumka displays an old miner's safety lamp in his office at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington in 2010. (CNS Photo / Nancy Wiechec)

Richard L. Trumka displays an old miner’s safety lamp in his office at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington in 2010. (CNS Photo / Nancy Wiechec)

Born into the third generation of coal miners in the coal country of Pennsylvania, Trumka himself worked in the mines, but went to college and law school. In 1982, he became president of the United Mine Workers at the age of 33.

Trumka led a successful eight-month strike against the Pittston Coal Co. encouraging striking miners and their allies to engage in non-violent civil disobedience to confront society and gain public support.

“He wasn’t just a great union leader, he was a friend,” President Joe Biden said at a White House event in late July. “He was someone I could confide in. Do, he would,” he added, according to an NPR report.

Biden said Trumka died of a heart attack while on a camping trip with his family, NPR reported.

Despite his national profile, “Rich has shown a keen interest and always answered the call when needed” on local labor issues and statehood for the District of Columbia, an Aug. 5 statement said. by Dyana Forester, President of the Washington Metropolitan AFL-CIO.

“Richard Trumka was shaped by his Catholic faith,” said an Aug. 5 tweet from Dylan Corbett, founding director of the Hope Border Institute and former staff member of the American Bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development. “He has often recounted how his father was chased through the woods and down the stairs of a church by anti-union cops where a priest had rescued him. He said the church should be” a refuge from the injustice, a sanctuary of flesh and blood. “Tear apart.”

“What a loss. A powerful voice for the dignity of workers. A Catholic who embodied the values ​​of Catholic education on living wages, unions and a just economy,” said an Aug. 5 tweet from John Gehring, director of the Catholic program of Faith in Public Life and author of The François effect

“Trumka was a champion of workers’ rights and a passionate leader of the labor movement,” said an Aug. 5 statement from John Schmidt, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, of which Trumka was chairman of the board. “His legacy will not be forgotten as together we meet the critical challenges facing American workers and build an economy that works for everyone.”

“The entire labor movement stands in solidarity today as we reflect on its life and legacy,” said Richard Lanigan, president of the International Union of Office and Professional Employees, in an August 5 statement about Trumka .

“We are grateful for all he has accomplished on behalf of the workers, especially recently as he skillfully guided the trade union movement through an extremely politically divided period, while keeping the movement united in the struggle for the future of all workers, ”Lanigan said. noted. “We are committed to upholding its powerful heritage and fighting for the dignity and respect for all.”

Richard was a transformational leader within the labor movement. He has spent decades advancing organizational work and taken monumental steps to advance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the ‘AFL-CIO,’ said an Aug. 5 statement by Kyle Bragg, president of SEIU Local 32BJ.

SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, is the largest union of healthcare, public sector and real estate workers.

“Richard Trumka has helped dramatically improve the lives of millions of working families,” said Bragg. “His legacy will live on thanks to the power of the labor movement that he leaves behind.

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