President Joe Biden has long been a strong ally of America’s labor unions and a close friend to powerful union boss Richard Trumka.
After the 72-year-old president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) died this week, Biden issued a heartfelt statement of condolences.
“All across America”
The president was among various high-profile Democrats who expressed their grief upon learning of Trumka’s death on Thursday. In a formal White House statement, Biden recounted a recent phone conversation between the two.
“In the more than thirty years of our friendship, he was a fierce and forceful champion for the dignity of the American worker,” Biden wrote, according to the Washington Examiner.
The president went on to praise the former coal miner for devoting his life to “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.”
Citing his own belief that “the middle class built this country and unions built the middle class,” Biden asserted that “Trumka helped build unions all across America.”
Among the longtime union advocate’s “most important” traits, the president wrote, “is that he was never afraid to speak truth to power, even if the power was held by people he helped elect,” noting that he had been the recipient of such criticism.
“The voice of America’s labor movement”
“He was always honest and fair,” Biden said of Trumka. “He was always tough and trustworthy. He was as great a friend and powerful and reliable ally as anyone could have in their corner.”
Affirming that he would miss his friend and offering condolences to the loved ones Trumka left behind, the president concluded that the union leader “was a dear friend, a great American, and a good man.”
A source cited by Politico indicated that Trumka suffered a fatal heart attack between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.
After serving as the AFL-CIO president since 2009, Trumka’s death leaves the future of the organization in question. In addition to uncertainty about who will be tasked with leading it in the future, it remains to be seen whether the federation will retain the political influence it held under Trumka’s leadership.
In a statement, AFL-CIO communications director Tim Schlittner referenced the impact the late leader had on organized labor, writing: “Rich Trumka devoted his life to working people, from his early days as president of the United Mine Workers of America to his unparalleled leadership as the voice of America’s labor movement.”