Washington — Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO labor union and a powerful force in Democratic politics, died unexpectedly Thursday at the age of 72.
Tim Schlittner, the AFL-CIO's communications director, confirmed Trumka's death in a statement, saying the country "lost a legend today."
"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," Schlittner said, calling a "relentless champion of workers' rights."
At the White House, President Biden said Trumka was "more than the head of the AFL-CIO, he was a very close personal friend." The president said Trumka died while on a camping trip with his grandsons.
"At least he was with people who adore him," Mr. Biden said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer mourned Trumka in an emotional speech on the Senate floor, saying the country has "lost a fierce warrior at a time when we needed him most."
"He had in his veins, in every atom of his body, the heart, the thoughts, the needs of the working people of America," the Democratic leader said.
Trumka led the 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO since 2009, when he was elected president. Prior to becoming president of the labor group, Trumka served as secretary-treasurer for 14 years.
He grew up in the mining town of Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, in a family of coal miners before attending Penn State University and Villanova University law school. Trumka became the youngest elected president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), winning election in 1982 at the age of 33.
As head of the UMWA, he led "one of the most successful strikes in recent American history" against a coal company that tried to skirt payments to a health and pension fund, according to his AFL-CIO biography.
Alan He contributed reporting.
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