Richard Trumka was a fighter. You could see that in his advocacy for workers as the nation’s top labor leader, and in his dealings with journalists. He clearly enjoyed a good argument, and in his 12 appearances at the Monitor Breakfast – every year like clockwork, pre-Labor Day, beginning in 2009 – the sparks often flew. We reporters loved it.
The news yesterday of Mr. Trumka’s passing brought a flood of memories. Former Monitor Editor and breakfast host David Cook recalls that the AFL-CIO president always came prepared with extensive remarks, making it hard to find a way – politely – to cut him off and get to questions.
Mr. Trumka never failed to bring up his roots as a third-generation coal miner from southwestern Pennsylvania, where he still had property – good for family time and hunting. He was also a lawyer, but he didn’t come across as an inside-the-Beltway type.
Yet he was the ultimate insider, in union halls, in the Capitol, at the White House, mostly with Democrats. Mr. Trumka had the ear of President Joe Biden – another son of blue-collar Pennsylvania – and tried to work with President Donald Trump on trade, to limited avail.
At our last in-person Trumka breakfast, two years ago, my most memorable moment came right when we sat down. “The first thing he mentioned was his new granddaughter – and we know how tough guys melt over grandchildren,” I wrote afterward.
We were scheduled to have Mr. Trumka back on Aug. 31 for our first in-person breakfast of the pandemic era. There would have been lots of questions. And he would have had plenty to say.