Remembering Rich Trumka, AFL-CIO President

The Catholic Labor Network mourns the loss of AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka last week.

Trumka was a champion of working families and a friend of the Network. As a Catholic union leader, his faith and his vocation pointed in the same direction: solidarity, the key concept bridging the world of labor and Church.

A third-generation mineworker from Western Pennsylvania, Trumka rose to become president of the United Mineworkers of America, a legendary labor organization, leading the union through the bitter 1989 Pittston strike. In 1995 he teamed up with another union leader motivated by his Catholic faith, John Sweeney of the Service Employees International Union to win the leadership of the AFL-CIO. They ran on on a platform of renewing labor’s commitment to organize the unorganized. When Sweeney retired in 2009, Trumka was elected president of the AFL-CIO.

When explaining labor’s relationship with the Church, he frequently related an incident his father had witnessed in the hard days of the 20s and 30s when the union was trying to organize in the face of fierce and violent employer opposition. Nemacolin was a classic company town, he explained. “Every house, every store and seemingly every square foot belonged to the mining company. There were two exceptions: the union hall and Our Lady of Consolation Church, which was at the heart of our town’s Catholic community.”

The mine owners had their own special police force, the Coal and Iron Police. One day these police broke up a labor action and a mounted officer pursued his father and grandfather all the way to the steps of the Church.

“The parish priest, Fr. Paul Simko, heard the commotion and came out front with a crucifix raised high. He stepped right between my dad and granddad and the mounted police and said, ‘You can’t ride up on these steps. This is a sanctuary!’… Fr. Simko was not some kind of rogue actor. He was living the church’s teachings from the papal enyclical, Rerum Novarum. He was practicing the virtue of solidarity that Pope Francis so often speaks of today.”

President Trumka was a strong supporter of the Catholic Labor Network and our Church-Labor Partnership Project. Last year he read from Genesis in the CLN’s livestreamed Labor Day Mass.

For more information on President Trumka’s life and work from a Catholic perspective, see:

1 reply
  1. Emma Jean Middendorf, CDP
    Emma Jean Middendorf, CDP says:

    Perhaps it was a gift of the Holy Spirit that I saw this item. The Library entry caught my attention.
    I am a Sister of Divine Providence, member of an International Congregation founded in 1851 by Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler in Mainz, Germany. The encyclical Rerum Novarum includes many of the social justice issues promulgated by Bishop Ketteler in his Advent sermons in the Mainz Cathedral.
    I hope to take part in your discussion, but Time inevitably governs all of us. I anticipate interacting with some topics. Thanks.

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