The AFL-CIO Executive Council mourns the untimely passing of Larry Willis, a longtime champion of transportation workers and president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD).
Willis was a spirited and fierce advocate. He spent more than two decades raising the bar on policy, safety and workers’ rights for millions of workers who operate, maintain, build and service our transportation industry. He helped transportation unions break new ground on an evolving agenda focused not just on waging the battles, but on winning them to make gains for union members.
Willis started his career at TTD as a young legislative staffer. From the start, he demonstrated tremendous skill navigating the intricacies of complex policies. His career growth was steady and well-earned: legislative representative, legislative counsel, chief of staff, secretary-treasurer and then president in 2017.
Willis had an uncanny ability to translate difficult, often arcane issues into strong policy reforms in the sharp-elbowed world of Washington. He was a subject matter expert able to articulate with eloquence the policy aspirations of working people. From demanding investment in our transportation system to raising safety and security standards, strengthening worker protections and rights, combating reckless outsourcing and contracting out, and pulling the levers of the federal government’s regulatory powers, Willis’ achievements were significant.
During the most challenging times, Willis was never deterred or discouraged. His work after the September 11 terrorist attacks, during recessions, the 2008 financial crisis and countless public health emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic, will forever be a source of inspiration and direction for our movement. His message: America will not recover from crises without a strong transportation system and skilled workers on the job ready to deliver.
Willis shaped countless pieces of legislation and regulations that ensure workers are respected and treated fairly—and that keep our transportation system well-funded and safe. The people in this vast industry may not have known him personally, but their lives on the job will forever be linked to Willis’ legacy.
We remember Larry Willis for his incredible love of family and life and his generous spirit, apparent in major policy achievements for millions of workers—and in simple ways, through everyday acts of kindness and decency.