American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) president Richard Trumka, leader of the largest federation of unions in the United States for more than a decade, died suddenly on Thursday. He was 72.

Trumka had been president of the AFL-CIO, a group of more than 50 labour unions, including IUOE, representing 12.5 million members across the United States, since 2009. In addition to organizing and representing workers, the AFL-CIO also assists in worker training and operates the largest training network outside the U.S. military.

Trumka was a key political ally to Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden and was leading an effort to institute landmark reforms to federal labour laws when he died. He had recently been championing the White House’s push to pass an infrastructure package, which he called the biggest infrastructure bill in history.

“He was a champion of the working people and a great speaker,” Local 793 Business Manager Mike Gallagher said. “He faced down some anti-union Presidents and sought to expand the ‘tent of the unionized labour movement to include all workers regardless of gender, ethnicity or even citizenship’.”

During the pandemic, Trumka’s positions on complicated issues like workplace safety and vaccine mandates, which he expressed support for, helped set the tone for the rest of the United States.

“Brother Trumka was a dedicated labour leader,” IUOE General President James T. Callahan said. “His outspoken voice on behalf of all working men and women will be sorely missed.”