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September 2021

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Saying Goodbye to a Labor Legend

Last month we laid to rest a great labor leader and an even greater man, Brother Richard Trumka.

As president of the AFL-CIO since 2009 and secretary-treasurer for 14 years before that, he led the American labor movement through difficult times and incredible victories, and his loss will be felt by the entire labor community.

I first met Rich as a relatively new business manager at Rock Island, Ill., LocalĀ 145 in the late 1990s. He came to town for a midterm election event, and I remember his speech well. Rich was an impressive speaker who knew how to fire up a crowd, a skill he'd learned as the youngest-ever president of the United Mineworkers at just 33.

Our paths started crossing more often when I started working for the International Office in 2002. Every time I saw Rich, he made such an impression on me, as he did with so many others. He made a point of getting to know you, treating you as an equal and a friend.

Rich was close with former International President Ed Hill, and he showed his trust in Ed and his love for the IBEW when he asked our own Liz Shuler to run on a ticket with him when he was elected AFL-CIO president in 2009. He and Liz made a great team, and I know she'll work every day to carry his memory and legacy with her as she steps into his very big shoes.

I'll also never forget the friendship and support Rich gave me when I became international president in 2015. He was always full of advice and encouragement, and I looked forward to the "Thanksgiving," or "Merry Christmas, buddy," text messages every holiday. I'll miss them, especially this Labor Day.

Rich lived and breathed the labor movement, and he never lost sight of who he was there to protect. He served the folks he worked alongside in the coal mines of Pennsylvania as a young man, the tradesmen and tradeswomen who built and grew the middle class and the people who struggled week in and week out to put food on the table for their families.

It was that grounding that allowed him to walk into the Oval Office or leadership offices on Capitol Hill and speak truth to power, and it was why those powerful people respected him whether they agreed on things or not.

Most importantly, Rich was a family man. He never forgot to ask about your family, and he loved his with everything he had. Our thoughts are with his wife, Barbara, their son, Rich Jr. and grandchildren Richard and Taylor. The women and men of the IBEW offer our deepest sympathy and gratitude for sharing Brother Rich with us all these years.


Also: Cooper: Remembering Sacrifices this Labor Day Read Cooper's Column

Lonnie R. Stephenson

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President