Fayette alumnus and prominent labor leader Richard Trumka dies

LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Richard L. Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the largest organization of labor unions in the country, died on Aug. 5 at the age of 72. He was an alumnus of Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus.

Richard L. Trumka poses before a United States flag

Richard L. Trumka, Penn State Fayette alumnus and prominent labor leader.

Credit: American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations

Born in Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, Trumka began his career as a third-generation coal miner, attending classes at Penn State Fayette after his night shift. He would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Smeal College of Business and a juris doctor degree from Villanova University before joining the legal staff of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).

In 1982, at age 33, he was elected the youngest president of UMWA. He later joined the AFL-CIO, which has 12.5 million members across 56 unions. He was elected as its secretary-treasurer in 1995 and president in 2009.

In a statement, the AFL-CIO described Trumka’s legacy: “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.”

“He [Trumka] was an American worker, always fighting for working people," said U.S. President Joe Biden in a eulogy last week. "Protecting their wages, their safety, their pensions and their ability to build a middle-class life."

In a 2017 Spring Commencement address to the campus, Trumka said, “Penn State Fayette helped give me a foundation for life. I learned about what it means to be a citizen. I learned the importance of community. I learned how to listen and engage and understand. To this day, I take Fayette with me everywhere I go.”

Charles Patrick, Penn State Fayette chancellor and chief academic officer, said, “I was honored to meet Mr. Trumka at our 2017 Commencement. I admired his commitment to improving the lives of workers across the country as president of the UMWA and later as president of the AFL-CIO. I’m very proud that he started his education at Penn State Fayette and his legacy will always be a part of what we are.”