Press Release

Remembering Legendary Labor Leader and President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO, Tom Donahue

Statement from AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond on the passing of AFL-CIO President Emeritus Tom Donahue

We are deeply saddened by the loss of former AFL-CIO president Tom Donahue and extend our condolences to his family, friends and loved ones.  

Tom was an innovator, intellectual and a visionary labor leader who was ahead of his time. Long before the future of work and the impact of technology on workers became a robust policy debate, Donahue was creating a blueprint for unions that encouraged experimentation with new approaches and technology to expand worker organizing and increase the labor movement’s influence. That blueprint served as a guide that still influences union innovation today. He was a brilliant strategist who had the keen insight to foreshadow challenges and opportunities workers would face well into the future, and our movement is much better for it today. 

In a career that spanned six decades starting as a part-time organizer with the Retail Clerks International Union in New York City and rising to secretary-treasurer and president of the AFL-CIO, Donahue put every ounce of his being into the labor movement he loved from the moment he joined it. A tireless champion of organizing, he helped create the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute which opened doors for a new generation of organizers. Throughout his distinguished career as an organizer and labor leader, Donahue always pushed the labor movement to embrace innovation and change to keep propelling workers forward. 

Donahue’s influence extended well beyond our nation’s borders. He served as chairman of an advisory group on labor and diplomacy with secretaries of state Madeline Albright and Colin Powell, powerfully advancing the cause of democracy and ensuring the link between anti-democratic movements and worker oppression was clear to leaders here and abroad. He helped lead the labor movement's support for the independent Polish trade union Solidarnosc in the 1980s and was a vocal critic of oppression in any form, leading a call for unions to boycott apartheid-era South Africa. 

Throughout his legendary career, he never forgot his roots in the Bronx. His father was a union deckhand with the Staten Island Ferry, giving him an early education in the movement that would shape his life. He believed deeply in the collective power workers wield when we have a union on the job. Everyone in the labor movement who knew Donahue respected both his absolute commitment to working people and his formidable intellect.  All of us in the labor movement today in a new age of organizing and technological change stand on his shoulders. Our thoughts are with his wife Rachelle, daughter and grandchildren during this difficult time. 

Contact: Steve Smith, 202-637-5018