AFL-CIO president and key Democrat ally Richard Trumka died unexpectedly earlier this week at the age of 72, according to a press release issued by the powerful labor organization, sending shockwaves through the nation’s capital.
Trumka passed away either Wednesday evening or Thursday morning due to an apparent heart attack suffered while on a camping trip with his family, according to the Washington Post, and staff at the organization learned the news soon after.
The Post reported that Trumka was a third-generation coal industry worker who climbed the ladder of union leadership through the United Mine Workers. A staunch friend of D.C. Democrats, Trumka had been involved in some way or another with every Democrat-held White House for the past three decades.
The labor leader had served at the helm of the AFL-CIO since 2009, guiding its membership of over 50 distinct unions through countless political campaigns and issues.
In response to Trumka’s death, the organization lauded his tenure, saying, “He was a relentless champion of workers’ rights, workplace safety, worker-centered trade, democracy and so much more. 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.”
President Joe Biden was among the many top Democrats to pay tribute to Trumka following the news of his death, saying, “For Rich, it was always about doing right by working people — fighting for and protecting their wages, their safety, their pensions, and their ability to build a good, decent, honorable middle-class life…There is no doubt that Rich Trumka helped build unions all across America,” Politico noted.
Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was particularly moved by the news of Trumka’s death, taking to the Senate floor to herald the achievements of his friend and political ally and pausing momentarily to regain his composure as he spoke. “The working people of America have lost a fierce warrior at a time when we needed him most,” Schumer delcared, according to the Post.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) was also among those expressing sadness at the news, saying, “He never forgot where he came from. He dedicated the rest of his career to fighting for America’s working men and women. He was a fierce advocate for working people and a truly decent man.”
According to Politico, the organization’s constitution provides that the Secretary-Treasurer will step in to fulfill Trumka’s duties until a successor can be elected, but due to coronavirus concerns and delays, that will not occur until the group’s next convention, which is not slated to take place until June of 2022.