Whether you’re reading this column online or in print, you know that the entire labor movement is mourning the unexpected passing of our friend and leader, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
As someone who worked with and knew Rich since the 1970s, I want each of you to know that all of the tributes written and spoken about him are accurate and well-earned. He was one-in-a-million, and I’m blessed to have been not only his colleague, but his friend.
If you met Rich even once, you know that when it came to personal energy, he was an 11 on a scale of 1-to-10. For that reason, I hesitate to describe him as rejuvenated following last year’s presidential election, but there’s no doubt he had taken his work and his leadership to another level. He was exceptionally fired up about the very real opportunities we have before us for labor-law reform and for growing our movement.
There’s a decent chance you saw him on television in recent months, promoting workers’ rights and trade unionism. Be 100 percent certain that those appearances were exclusively about the work at hand, rather than having anything to do with personal publicity. Rich was all about workers and their families.
In practical terms, you cannot say that someone is one-in-a-million and then expect our movement to not miss a beat. That’s just not realistic. Throughout the AFL-CIO – from headquarters to the affiliate unions like the SIU, to the state labor federations and central labor councils to individual locals – we all have to step up to help fill that void. It’s a tall order. Nevertheless, I am completely confident in new AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, who, like Rich, came up through the ranks and earned everything she got. Liz is the one who reminded us that we’re allowed and expected to mourn, but we’re not permitted to slack off. As she said, Rich wouldn’t allow it.
Please take the time to read our coverage of Rich, and also know that he absolutely had a special affection for the SIU. Whenever we asked for help or invited him anywhere, he made it happen. I’ve got a framed photo of him in my office with a bunch of our officials playfully grabbing him during the 1999 AFL-CIO convention. Rich signed it, “8 Seafarers against 1 Mine Worker. Seems about right!”
Even when he was kidding, his fighting spirit came through. And those odds wouldn’t have been fair, anyway – to us. Rich could overcome any challenge.
Rest in peace, my dear friend. You are missed.