Pa. Native and Union Leader Richard Trumka to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom Posthumously

In this Sept. 9, 2013 file photo, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka speaks in Los Angeles. The longtime president of the AFL-CIO labor union has died. News of Richard Trumka’s death was announced Thursday by President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Trumka was 72 and had been AFL-CIO president since 2009, after serving as the organization’s secretary-treasurer for 14 years. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

By Ashley Adams

July 5, 2022

The former president of the AFL-CIO is one of 17 people who will receive the highest civilian honor in a ceremony at the White House next week.

Richard Trumka, the powerful president of the AFL-CIO who rose from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to preside over one of the largest labor organizations in the world, is one of 17 people who will receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

President Joe Biden announced the list of honorees recently, which include actor Denzel Washington, gymnast Simone Biles, and the late US Senator and war hero John McCain.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is reserved for people who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the nation, world peace or other significant societal public or private endeavors, the White House said.

Trumka, who passed away last August at age 72, was the son and grandson of coal miners. He grew up in the small southwestern Pennsylvania town of Nemacolin, where he worked as a coal miner while attending Penn State University.

He was elected in 1982 at age 33 as the youngest president of the United Mine Workers of America, pledging that the then-troubled union “shall rise again.”

There, he led a successful strike against the Pittston Coal Company, which tried to avoid paying into an industry-wide health and pension fund, the union’s website said.

At age 43, Trumka led a nationwide strike against Peabody Coal in 1993. 

He had been AFL-CIO president since 2009, after serving as the organization’s secretary-treasurer for 14 years. From his perch, he oversaw a federation with more than 12.5 million members and ushered in a more aggressive style of leadership.

Biden called Trumka “a close friend” who was “more than the head of AFL-CIO” last year after learning of his death.


  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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