On Sept. 16, 2009, Richard L. Trumka was elected president of the AFL-CIO. His election, following 15 years of service as the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer, capped Trumka’s rise to leadership of the nation’s largest labor federation from humble beginnings in the small coal mining communities of southwest Pennsylvania. He was first elected in 1995, the youngest secretary-treasurer in AFL-CIO history, as part of an insurgent campaign to reinvigorate the American labor movement. At the time of his election, Trumka was serving his third term as president of the United Mine Workers of America.
Trumka led the creation of the AFL-CIO Capital Stewardship Program in 1997 to promote the retirement security of America’s working families. AFL-CIO member unions sponsor pension and benefit plans with more than $400 billion in assets and are a major force in the global capital markets. Under Trumka’s leadership, the AFL-CIO Capital Stewardship Program promotes corporate governance reform, investment manager accountability, pro-worker investment strategies, international pension fund cooperation and trustee education and support.
As a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, Trumka was chairman of the Strategic Approaches Committee, charged with assisting affiliated unions that seek assistance in achieving their strategic goals through collective bargaining. He also chaired the AFL-CIO Finance Committee. A member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council since 1989, Trumka was instrumental in developing tactics to rally the support of international labor on behalf of U.S. workers struggling for workplace justice. He also served on the executive boards of the International Miners’ Federation and the ICFTU and played a key role in organizing a new global coalition of coal miners’ unions in five countries.
Trumka, a third-generation coal miner from Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, began working in the mines at age 19. Rich worked in the mines for more than seven years, working his way through Pennsylvania State University, where he graduated in 1971 with a Bachelor of Science degree, and in 1974 he got a law degree from Villanova University. In his years working underground, the hazards of mining exposed Trumka to lessons and experiences that shaped him far more than his academic or legal pursuits.
Subsequently, he was elected to the union’s executive board in 1981 and first elected international president in 1982. As president of UMWA, Trumka led the union in one of the most successful strikes in recent American history against the Pittston Coal Company, which tried to avoid paying into an industry-wide health and pension fund. This action resulted in significant advances in employer-employee cooperation and enhanced mine workers’ job security, pensions and benefits.
Breaking with decades of tradition, his consistent use of non-violent civil disobedience led to his being given the Labor Responsibility Award from the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in 1990.