Lawyer on Tap to Lead AFL-CIO
Richard L. Trumka, the former coal miner expected to be elected president of the AFL-CIO, America's largest labor federation, at its convention in Pittsburgh next week, is a lawyer who got his start in the labor movement as a staff attorney for the United Mine Workers of America. Trumka, 60, has been AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since 1995 and was formerly president of the United Mine Workers. But his legal background is often overlooked.
As had his father and grandfather before him, he started out as a coal miner at age 19. He continued to mine while he worked his way through Pennsylvania State University. After graduating from Penn State in 1971, he went to Villanova University School of Law, where he earned his law degree in 1974.
After law school, Trumka joined the UMWA as a staff attorney in its Washington, D.C., headquarters. He remained there until 1979, when he returned to mine work. In his free time, he did legal work for local families on a pro bono basis, according to his official biography.
He also became involved in union affairs and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1981, he was elected to the board of directors of UMWA District 4. A year later, at age 33, he was elected UMWA president, its youngest president ever.
As president, he led a nine-month strike against the Pittston Coal Company. His biography describes it as "one of the most successful strikes in recent American history." Wikipedia says the strike "has been called a rallying symbol for the entire labor movement." His work to promote mine worker solidarity with South African miners earned him the 1990 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.
Not long after becoming AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer in 1995, Trumka was investigated by federal prosecutors looking into whether he illegally helped steer $150,000 in AFL-CIO money to help Ron Carey win the Teamsters presidency in 1996 over James Hoffa Jr. Trumka refused to testify before a federal grand jury, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and was never charged, according to Reuters.
My search of legal blogs for comments about Trumka found only one post, on the EFCA & Labor Law Reform Blog, published by the management-side labor law firm Jackson Lewis. The post takes issue with a Washington Post article describing the Pittston strike as Trumka's "crowning achievement. "We are unclear how Trumka measures the success of a strike, but his crowning achievement resulted in a court ordered injunction being levied against his union, his union officials being held in contempt of court and his union being fined more than $30 million dollars for strike related activities," the post's authors write.
One point on which reports about Trumka agree is that he is likely to be a more aggressive union leader than was his predecessor, John Sweeney. In that, his background as a lawyer will no doubt serve him well.
Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 11, 2009 at 03:12 PM | Permalink
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