The U.S. labor movement lost arguably its most visible figure when AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka died Aug. 5 of a heart attack. He was the leader of the nation's top labor federation and its roughly 12 million members spread across more than 50 member unions since 2009, after having been elected secretary-treasurer in 1995.
During his tenure as AFL-CIO president, he was unable to stop the slide in union membership in the U.S., as overall union membership dropped by roughly 1.5 percentage points to about 11 percent of the nation's work force. Looking just at the private sector, union representation is even weaker, at just 7 percent.
In recent years, detractors said the AFL-CIO wasn't spending enough resources on organizing efforts to bring in more members. Trumka had close ties to Democratic politicians—particularly President Biden—and tried to use his status as a Washington insider to support legislation that could boost the fortunes of workers and union members. He also worked with President Trump to overturn NAFTA and replace it with the U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement, though he later called Trump "one of the most anti-worker presidents in American history."