Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO union—one of the largest and most powerful—died at age 72, according to the union.
His cause of death was not disclosed.
“Rich Trumka devoted his life to working people, from his early days as president of the United Mine Workers of America to his unparalleled leadership as the voice of America’s labor movement,” AFL-CIO Communications Director Tim Schlittner said in a statement on Thursday. “He was a relentless champion of workers’ rights, workplace safety, worker-centered trade, democracy and so much more. He was also a devoted father, grandfather, husband, brother, coach, colleague, and friend.”
A number of top Democrats addressed his death on Thursday, including President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
“I rise today with some sad, some horrible, news about the passing of a great friend, Rich Trumka, who left us this morning,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor of the Senate, making the initial announcement about Trumka’s death. “The working people of America have lost a fierce warrior at a time when we needed him most.”
Meanwhile, Pelosi said Trumka was an “unsurpassed titan of labor” who dedicated his life to union work.
Several media outlets, citing unnamed sources, said Trumka died of a heart attack. It’s not clear when he died.
Trumka, who grew up in Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, and once worked as a coal miner, was elected to head AFL-CIO in 2009. Previously, he attended Penn State and Villanova University law school.
In 1982, when he was 33, Trumka was elected as the youngest president of the United Mine Workers of America, according to the AFL-CIO. Before he was elected to head the AFL-CIO, he was the group’s secretary-treasurer for a decade before that.
“Rich’s story is the American story—he was the son and grandson of Italian and Polish immigrants and began his career mining coal,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said in a statement. “He never forgot where he came from. He dedicated the rest of his career to fighting for America’s working men and women. He was a fierce advocate for working people and a truly decent man.”
The AFL-CIO, which describes itself as the largest federation of unions in the United States, is a coalition of 55 unions representing some 12.5 million members.
Other details about his death were not provided.