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Season 2, Episode 159

A look at the legacy of Rich Trumka



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John Nichols

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The recent death of AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka shook the organized labor movement to its core. A close ally of the Biden Administration, Trumka was known as a relentless champion of workers’ rights, as he fought to make unions inclusive, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or immigration status.

John Nichols, a National Affairs Correspondent with The Nation, joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss Trumka’s legacy and why it is important to pursue his vision for a more unionized America through the PRO Act.

Solidarity and the strength of a united front

Nichols recently wrote a biographical tribute to Trumka for The Nation, celebrating the labor leaders “‘true solidarity’ — from his days as an anti-apartheid activist to his bold embrace of immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter.”

He explained it is important to remember Trumka was a worker. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Trumka began his career as a miner while simultaneously pursuing an education — eventually earning a law degree.

His background deeply aligned him with the plight of workers, Nichols stated. Trumka had a rough and tumble style that was deeply blue collar. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty.

This trait served Trumka well as he strived to make unions inclusive to everyone, embracing civil rights, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights and immigrant rights — fights to which some members of the labor movement may have initially objected, Nichols said. Trumka would personally approach reluctant workers on the job, at union meetings and on picket lines and explain his position — why unions had to represent everyone, regardless of race, creed or orientation.

Trumka encouraged early support of former President Barack Obama, long before most union members had even heard of the then Junior Senator from Illinois.

Honor Trumka, fight for the PRO Act

Trumka was a modernizer, Nichols explained. He understood the union movement was changing. Damage had been done from overseas deals; industries were rapidly evolving. At a time when labor was under attack, Trumka demonstrated solidarity was absolutely essential.

As a result, unions have grown and become more popular than ever before, Nichols stated. More Americans understand today that strong unions are needed — and Trumka was a big part of the growth.

Nichols said it is a tragedy Trumka’s death came at a point in union history when the country has a labor-friendly president.

America needs the PRO Act, pro-union legislation that would make it easier for workers to organize, he said. If the PRO Act successfully passes, America will experience a union renaissance, one for which Trumka will deserve considerable credit.

America’s Work Force is the only daily labor podcast in the US and has been on the air since 1993, supplying listeners with useful, relevant input into their daily lives through fact-finding features, in-depth interviews, informative news segments and practical consumer reports. America’s Work Force is committed to providing an accessible venue in which America's workers and their families can hear discussion on important, relevant topics such as employment, healthcare, legislative action, labor-management relations, corporate practices, finances, local and national politics, consumer reports and labor issues.

America’s Work Force Union Podcast is brought to you in part by our sponsors: AFL-CIO, American Federation of Government Employees, American Federation of Musicians Local 4, American Alliance for Manufacturing, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, Communication Workers of America, International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 50, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Crafts, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 6, Ironworkers Great Lakes District Council, The Labor Citizen newspaper, Laborers International Union of The National Labor Office of Blue Cross and Blue Shield, North America, North Coast Area Labor Federation, Ohio Federation of Teachers, Survey and Ballot Systems, United Labor Agency, United Steelworkers.


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