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Profile of Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President

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Profile of Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President

Richard Trumka with President Obama on August 4, 2010: Michael Reynolds/Getty Images.

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President:

Richard Trumka is the outspoken, energetic President of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. federation of labor unions, representing more than 11 million workers.

Trumka was elected AFL-CIO President in 2009 after serving since 1995 as secretary-treasurer. Trumka spent 1982 to 1995 as President of the United Mine Workers of America union, an AFL-CIO member.

Richard Trumka hails from an immigrant family of Pennsylvania coal miners. He labored in mines while working his way through college and law school. Trumka has proven to be a bold, intelligent, hands-on leader and activist visionary who supports nonviolent change methods.

Richard Trumka Before the AFL-CIO:

Starting at age 19, Richard Trumka worked in Pennsylvania coal mines while pursuing a B.S. at Pennsylvania State University and earning a law degree at Villanova University.

Trumka worked for four years on the United Mine Workers' legal staff, leaving in 1979 to return to mine work and pro bono legal services for coal mining families.

In 1982, Trumka was elected President of the United Mine Workers of America, a member of the AFL-CIO. As the youngest UMWA President at age 33, Trumka was sworn into office by his proud father.

In 1995, Trumka was elected AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, and was elected president in 2009.

Notable Moments and Events:

Notable events during Trumka's labor leader career include:
  • His July 1, 2008 landmark speech at the Steelworkers International convention deriding racism in the presidential election. The YouTube video went viral, with more than 560,000 views.

  • As AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer from 1995 to 2009, Trumka aggressively demanded accountability from corporations to U.S. workers, including on health care, pensions, and labor law.

  • In 1993 while UMWA President, Trumka sustained a remarkable and successful nine-month strike against a coal company's refusal to contribute to the industry's health and pension fund for miners.

Personal Data:

  • Birth - July 24, 1949 in Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, to Frank, Trumka, a coal miner for 44 years, and Eola Bertugli Trumka. One sibling, sister Frances Szallar, who resides in the greater Pittsburgh area.

  • Education - Carmichaels Area High School, where he played football linebacker. B.S., Magna Cum Laude, 1971, Pennsylvania State University. J.D., Villanova University, 1974.

  • Family - Married in 1982 to Barbara Vidovich, also from a coal miner family. One child, Richard Trumka, Jr., a Washington D.C. attorney who graduated from Cornell University (2006) and Georgetown University Law School (2009).

  • Faith - Roman Catholic

The Trumka Family: Immigration, Mining, Union Activism:

Richard Trumka's paternal grandfather immigrated from Poland, settling in Nemacolin in southwest Pennsylvania where he labored as a coal miner. Trumka's father, Frank (1916-1999), worked in coal mines for 44 years and passed away of black lung disease. Both grandfather and father were union activists who embraced a strong work ethic.

Richard Trumka's mother, Eola Bertugli (1921-2009), was born in Italy and immigrated to the U.S. when she was a child. Eola married Polish-American Frank Trumka in 1941.

Like most coal miner families, the Trumka family struggled for generations with poverty and mine-related health issues.

Memorable Quotes:

On Greed-Driven Economic Policies

"We built our middle class in the 20th century through hard work, struggle and visionary political leadership. But a generation of destructive, greed-driven economic policies has eroded that progress and now threatens our very identity as a nation."

----- On January 11, 2010

Wrong to Raise Social Security Retirement Age

"My dad worked 44 years in a coal mine. Retired the day he turned 62 because he couldn’t go another day. If you had told him you have to go to 68, my dad would have died. It would have killed him.

"There are millions of people like that. When we work in an air-conditioned office, it’s a whole lot different than people who work on a construction site, in a hospital, teaching in an inner city school, in a coal mine, in a steel mill."

----- On November 11,2010

U.S.: A Beacon of Hope in Divided World

"Government in the interests of the majority of Americans has produced our greatest achievements. The New Deal. The Great Society and the Civil Rights movement -- Social Security, Medicare, the minimum wage and the forty-hour work week, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. This is what made the United States a beacon of hope in a confused and divided world.

"But too many people now take for granted government’s role as protector of Wall Street and the privileged. They see middle-class Americans as overpaid and underworked. They see Social Security as a problem rather than the only piece of our retirement system that actually works. They feel sorry for homeless people, but fail to see the connections between downsizing, outsourcing, inequality and homelessness."

----- On January 11, 2010

On the Need to "Create Good Jobs that Support Families"

"While millions go without work, some people are talking about 'recovery'--as though numbers on Wall Street or profits at the big banks are the same as the real economy for working families. Wrong. We're still in crisis--and if we don't create jobs now, we will slide even further.

"We have to put America to work--at good jobs that support families. We've tried out the everything-must-go, trickle-down, bubble economy for the past decade, and it's been a disaster. If we're really going to have a recovery--not just a recovery on Wall Street or for the big banks, but for real people--we absolutely must create new jobs."

----- On November 17, 2009

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