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My former PSU classmate Richard Trumka, was a former coal miner who fought hard for them

… fierce advocate for unions and blue-collar workers

In my first conversation with Richard Trumka in 1971, we bonded for one reason: He had worked in the coal mines during his undergraduate years at Penn State, and I had worked in the steel mills.

At Villanova, none of our classmates had such a blue-collar background. We had many conversations, and after talking with him, the one thing I knew is that he was firmly committed to help those coal miners in any way he could.

Ultimately, he rose to lead the United Mine Workers of America and then the AFL-CIO, the largest union in the U.S.

Today, he passed away while on a camping trip with his grandsons, according to published reports, apparently because of a heart attack.

What I will always remember about him was his commitment to the working man and woman in America.

It was a family affair

Trumpka had a commitment to the coal mines because he was a third-generation coal miner. However, he did not work in the mines as long as his father and grandfather.

He graduated from Penn State in 1971 and from Villanova Law School in 1974. After that he went to work for unions, serving as the president of the UMW from 1982 until 1995, when he moved to the AFL-CIO. He served first as secretary-treasurer there and then in 2009, became its president until his death today.

Credits Catholic teaching for his beliefs

In an interview with Catholic News Service in 2010 after assuming the presidency of the largest union, Trumka, a native of Nemacolin, Pa., credited his Catholic upbringing with giving him the social and economic conscience that he had,

"The teachings of the church taught me about fairness, about workers' rights and about human rights -- and about protecting those human rights and those workers' rights," Trumka said in a March 11 interview with Catholic News Service.

"It taught me about the family and the family unit, and about sticking together," he added. "It also taught me about the importance of perseverance. Just because you don't succeed at first doesn't mean that you should quit or allow yourself to think that it's all over. It teaches you to keep coming and to keep working hard and to persevere."

Trumka said, "It also taught me that we have to help others." Here's how he sees that in the context of his role as AFL-CIO president: "In this position I have more of an opportunity to help people get ahead and get a fair shake, to get a job, to get fair treatment, than I would have anywhere else. And that's exciting."

Mark Pattison, “Catholic upbringing gave AFL-CIO leader sense of

fairness, justice,” Catholic News Service, 2010

Knew his journey’s goal from a young age

Trumka knew as a young person that the rights of the working man and woman were of paramount importance. That is why during a conversation in our dorm room in 1971, he ended the discussion by saying something like this,

I’m going to fight for them the rest of my life. That has been my goal for a long time … and if I am going to do that, I better get my butt down there and hit the books.

Past recollection

President Joe Biden, who is working to try and bring back unions, said that Trumpka was a “great close personal friend.”

Fought hard against Reagan’s diminution of the working man

Trumpka fought hard against the policies of Ronald Reagan that effectively destroyed unions in the U.S., and in reality, he destroyed the middle class.

Cannot remember that? Here is a refresher about the air traffic controllers,

Last Thursday, Trump's Labor Secretary Alex Acosta inducted one of the more head-scratching inductees into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Fame, President Ronald Reagan. While Reagan was the only union president to ever get elected President of the United States, his record while he was in office was not what many would call pro-union. Here are some of his biggest attacks on organized labor.

Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s farmworkers in California were being organized by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the United Farmworkers. As Governor, Reagan had the opportunity to support the farmworkers on multiple occasions. Instead, he campaigned against the grape boycott, calling it immoral and attempted blackmail and appeared on TV eating grapes in defiance of the boycott. He also vetoed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act which would have given farmworkers the right to collectively bargain.

All of this was just the appetizer for the destruction that Reagan did once he was elected President. Perhaps his most public anti-union effort was when he fired 13,000 air traffic controllers who were on strike in the summer of 1981. The firings destroyed the union, PATCO, forcing the union to be decertified. Reagan also announced that the 13,000 striking members would be banned for life from working for the federal government. While some were allowed to be hired back in 1986, it wasn’t until 1993 that the ban was lifted on the remaining PATCO members.

Kris LaGrange, “Ronald Reagan: The union buster,” U. Comm. Blog, March 5, 2018

His work was not yet done, and with a pro-labor president, Trumpka hoped to do more.

That, however, will be carried on by the next generation. His work and commitment are complete, and he was definitely carrying out the Catholic faith of his upbringing during his lifetime.

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