WASHINGTON (AP/KDKA) — Richard Trumka, the powerful president of the AFL-CIO labor union, has died, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Schumer, an ally of the union boss, announced Trumka's death from the Senate floor Thursday.
"The working people of America have lost a fierce warrior at a time when we needed him most," Schumer said.
President Joe Biden called Trumka "a close friend" who was "more than the head of AFL-CIO." He apologized for showing up late to a meeting with Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander civil rights leaders, saying he had just learned Trumka had died.
Further details of Trumka's death were not immediately available. The AFL-CIO did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Trumka, a Greene County native and Penn State graduate, oversaw a union with more than 12.5 million members, according to the AFL-CIO's website.
A longtime labor leader, Trumka was elected at age 33 in 1982 as the youngest president of the United Mine Workers of America.
There, he led a successful strike against the Pittston Coal Company, which tried to avoid paying into an industrywide health and pension fund, the union's website said.
He was elected president of the AFL-CIO at the federation's convention in Pittsburgh in 2009.
Eulogies quickly poured out Thursday from Democrats in Congress.
"Richard Trumka dedicated his life to the labor movement and the right to organize," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "Richard's leadership transcended a single movement, as he fought with principle and persistence to defend the dignity of every person."
The United Steelworkers released this statement following his death:
"The labor community suffered an immeasurable loss today with the passing of Rich Trumka, a true friend of our union and of workers everywhere.
"Since his early days as a mine worker, Rich never shied away from a fight, dedicating his life to advocating for justice and equality for working families the world over.
"Rich's was always one of the loudest voices in calling for not only fair wages and working conditions but also for an economic system in which all workers have a seat at the table.
"On behalf of the USW, I extend our most sincere and deepest condolences to the Trumka family. The members of our union, the labor movement and working families across the country will feel the sting of Rich's loss. We will honor his legacy by continuing his fight."
Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council President Darrin Kelly said Trumka was "western Pennsylvania to his core."
"We are heartbroken over the loss of our leader and our brother. No matter where he went or what he accomplished, Richard Trumka never forgot where he came from. He was western Pennsylvania to his core, and he was proud of it. He was the perfect leader — he was fierce when he needed to be, but always knew how to bring people together and find common ground. He was a great friend and mentor, and we will always strive to live up to the example he set for all of us," Kelly said in a statement.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald released this statement:
"Richard Trumka has been a champion for working people his entire life. We're proud that one of our own from southwestern Pennsylvania rose to such national and international prominence as head of the 12.5 million member AFL-CIO. He always remembered his roots and was often here to support initiatives and efforts by our local unions. His death is a loss for working people, and the loss of a clear voice for working rights in America. Our condolences go out to his family and friends, and to his larger union family, on their loss."
State Rep. Austin Davis, chair of the Allegheny County House Democratic Delegation, issued this statement:
"AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka rose from working in coal mines in Pennsylvania to become a leader and fighter for working families across the country. His dedication to ensure good jobs, fair wages, and safe working conditions helped to improve the lives of millions of workers.
"For more than a decade he guided the AFL-CIO, which represents more than 12.5 million workers, leading the labor movement's efforts to create an economy based on broadly shared prosperity and to hold elected officials and employers accountable to working families.
"The labor movement is part of the fabric of our communities. From the steel mills that built this nation, to the educators ensuring that our children will be able to compete in the 21st century, labor, Pittsburgh, and Allegheny County are part and parcel of our region's history and culture.
"Trumka leaves behind an indelible legacy that we must all work together to continue to build upon. He will be missed."
(TM and © Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
for more features.