The Stand

John Sweeney, former President of the AFL-CIO, dies at 86

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 2, 2021) — Former AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who spent 14 years steering the nation’s largest labor federation and building it into a political powerhouse, died Monday at age 86. After stepping down in 2009, he served as President Emeritus, offering advice to the group’s executive council and delivering speeches. (See his obituary by the Associated Press.)

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement Monday on Sweeney’s passing:

“John Sweeney was a legend, plain and simple. He was guided into unionism by his Catholic faith, and not a single day passed by when he didn’t put the needs of working people first.

John viewed his leadership as a spiritual calling, a divine act of solidarity in a world plagued by distance and division. The son of Irish immigrants, he used work as a way to directly apply his values, consistently exhibiting grit over flash and pursuing progress instead of posturing. He built SEIU into a powerhouse, doubling its membership, earning respect across the labor movement and in the halls of power. Throughout his storied life, John used the lessons he learned as a ground-level union leader to uphold dignity for all working people and expand human rights worldwide.

I was proud to join his insurgent ticket in 1995, which recommitted the AFL-CIO to worker organizing and collective power. As president, John was a great leader and true innovator, driving the labor movement forward. We stand on that foundation today as we take on the challenges of inequality, systemic racism and much more. Former President Bill Clinton called John ‘a force for inclusion and activism.’

I was blessed to call him a brother, a mentor and a friend. May God bless John’s memory, his family and the labor movement to which he devoted his life.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — In the photo above, Sweeney holds The Entire Staff of The Stand’s “Flat Stanley” beside then-WSLC President Rick Bender on Nov. 20, 1999, at the rally protesting World Trade Organization policies at Seattle Center Memorial Stadium.

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