The world lost a tireless fighter for working people on Aug. 5, when AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka passed away. At the RWDSU, we often saw first-hand the dedication of a man who was willing to go toe to toe with anybody if it meant defending the rights of working people and creating a fairer and more equitable society where all of us have our voices heard, not just the wealthiest and most powerful.
After being elected president of the AFL-CIO in 2011, Rich’s first trip to New York was to stand with RWDSU members at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx to demand living wages, especially at projects funded with taxpayer money. In Williamson, New York, he was there on the front lines to stand side-by-side with hundreds of striking RWDSU members at the Mott’s applesauce plant. Richard Trumka’s vocal support helped the workers win their strike against a corporate employer that was trying to slash wages and benefits despite enjoying record profits.
Richard Trumka joined the RWDSU in taking on Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama, standing with the courageous workers there who are trying to organize a union in the face of Amazon’s unlimited resources and willingness to break labor law to destroy their campaign. He was always there to answer the bell, no matter how big or small the fight when it came to workers’ rights. He was a visionary and an inspirational leader.
Richard was born into a mining family in Pennsylvania, and as a miner himself, he knew early on the importance of union activism and giving a voice to working people. Mining can be deadly work, and those prying coal from the depths of the earth know there is always a chance they might not make it home. These workers back each other up and watch out for each other and protect each other.
The values he learned in the mines and in the mining labor movement shaped his entire life’s work. As president of the AFL-CIO, he gave a voice every day to millions of union members and all working people in this country, and he brought to the labor movement an incredible energy, spirit and passion that showed during his entire career.
We will miss Richard Trumka, but we will never forget him. We will continue to fight for the values he held dear, and we will continue to bring a voice to all working people in his memory. There can be no greater tribute to his legacy than continuing to fight for better lives for all working people and their families.
Stuart Appelbaum is president, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union
www.rwdsu.org; Twitter: @sappelbaum