I recently called Rich Trumka. It wasn’t scheduled. I just called to check in as old friends do. We started our conversation like always. He asked about Jill and the family and I asked about Barbara and theirs. And then we got to work.
For Rich, work was synonymous with a word that defined his life: dignity. In the more than thirty years of our friendship, he was a fierce and forceful champion for the dignity of the American worker.
Whenever you heard him speak, you understood why. He was the American worker.
A son of a Pennsylvania coal miner, he grew up to be one. He became president of the United Mine Workers at just 33, and nearly thirty years later, he was elected president of the AFL-CIO. Yet no matter how far his career took him, he never forgot where he came from and the people he started with.
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. It was about workers improving their own lives and building worker power together. And it was about America itself. It was about the American worker being the heart of our economic might and dynamism. I’ve always believed that the middle class built this country and unions built the middle class. There is no doubt that Rich Trumka helped build unions all across America.
Perhaps the most important trait I valued in Rich is that he was never afraid to speak truth to power, even if the power was held by people he helped elect – myself included. He was always honest and fair. He was always tough and trustworthy. He was as great a friend and powerful and reliable ally as anyone could have in their corner.
I will miss him as will the countless workers whose lives he made better and the labor movement he led with daring vision. But I know our pain is nothing compared to what Barbara and their son Rich Jr. and their grandchildren Richard and Taylor are feeling on this day. As I told you on the phone after we heard the news, Jill and I send you our love – today and always.
Rich Trumka was a dear friend, a great American, and a good man.