Richard Trumka, President Of The AFL-CIO, Dies At Age 72 Trumka, the leader of the AFL-CIO and a close ally of Democratic Party officials, has died. He was 72.

Powerful U.S. Labor Leader Richard Trumka Dies

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A leading figure in the U.S. labor movement has died - Richard Trumka, longtime president of the AFL-CIO. He was 72 years old. He died of a heart attack. NPR's Don Gonyea has more on Trumka's life and legacy.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Richard Trumka was always easy to spot on the picket line. His burly physique and his thick, black mustache always made him stand out. There, he would work the crowd, making the case for union members. Those traits were on display in this clip from C-SPAN back in 1991. Trumka was at the time president of the United Mine Workers Union and was arguing for greater safety standards.

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RICHARD TRUMKA: We see in small mines they get away with a whole lot more. For instance, they have 15% of the workforce in the country, but they're responsible for 60% of the fatalities in the industry.

GONYEA: He also worked hard on behalf of candidates who supported union causes. Overwhelmingly, that meant Democrats. And on the U.S. Senate floor today, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer paid emotional tribute.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: He had in his veins, in every atom of his body the heart, the thoughts, the needs of the working people of America. He was them.

GONYEA: Richard Trumka grew up in the coal mining town of Nemacolin, Pa. His father was a miner. He worked in the mines as well before college and law school. He started work as a staffer at the mine workers union and, at age 33, became its president. That led to a position as secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO. During the 2008 election, when Barack Obama was on the ballot, Trumka started to encounter union members who told him they had reservations about voting for an African American. In response, he began touring union halls and giving speeches confronting the issue.

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TRUMKA: Our kids are moving away because there's no future here. And here is a man, Barack Obama, who's going to fight for people like us. And you want to tell me that you won't vote for him because of the color of his skin. Are you out of your ever-loving mind?

GONYEA: In the late 1990s, there was a blemish on Trumka's tenure as then-secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO. It involved improper campaign fundraising on behalf of a fellow union leader at the Teamsters. It did not set a pattern or derail his career. Trumka was a strong critic of President Trump. He supported Trump's plans to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement but said Trump's substitute fell far short. It was all talk, he said.

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TRUMKA: But here's the problem. You can't enforce it. There's no way to enforce the agreement, and therefore, it becomes useless.

GONYEA: He campaigned for Joe Biden's election. The two men have known one another for decades. President Biden referenced that in an Oval Office meeting with labor leaders in February.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Every once in a while as president, you get to invite close friends into the Oval.

GONYEA: Trumka supported Biden's infrastructure plan and efforts to deal with climate change, but he insisted workers not be left behind and was adamant that confronting climate change could benefit workers.

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TRUMKA: People want to make everybody believe it's an either-or. That's just not true. There's a path to navigate where you can fix climate change and get good jobs.

GONYEA: Richard Trumka's current term as AFL-CIO president was set to expire later this year. His retirement was widely expected, but he had not announced his plans. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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