On Richard Trumka and Reader Mail
We know that copies of our new issue have arrived in members’ mailboxes when we start hearing from readers, and the first week of the new year has already brought plenty of feedback. Not all of it is positive, of course; there’s very little we could write about that a diverse body of 170,000 Alumni Association members would completely agree on. But as is usually the case, the negative feedback increases anytime we run a story with a remotely political slant.
So it is with Richard Trumka ’71, the subject of a feature-length profile in our Jan/Feb issue. As the outspoken president of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest trade union federation, Trumka is an obvious target for anyone critical of organized labor. Trumka knows this, of course, and part of what makes him a compelling feature subject is his willingness to engage those critics. A 2010 Distinguished Alumnus, Trumka’s entire life story is pretty compelling: Growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania the son and grandson of coal miners, he spent time in the mines himself, trading work for tuition money through a deal with the local chapter of the United Mine Workers.
Trumka was elected AFL-CIO president in 2009, but it was a 2008 speech in which he challenged racism among the traditionally white, working-class union membership that put him in the national spotlight.
He’s since clashed with President Obama on issues like the Trans-Pacific trade partnership, a reminder that Trumka’s advocacy has less to do with ideology than with issues. We know some of our readers won’t agree with Trumka on either, just as we’ve known over the years when profiling the likes of senator Rick Santorum ’80 or climate scientist Michael Mann. In every case, we’ve written about them because they’re Penn Staters whose work has put them in the national spotlight. We’re hopeful that most of our readers appreciate that.
And as always, we’re happy to get your letters.
Ryan Jones, senior editor