AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at an event celebrating the memoir of AFL-CIO President Emeritus John Sweeney:
Brothers and sisters, I’m so glad to be here with you all on this wonderful day to celebrate this important book and to look back on how we arrived at this moment in time.
I’d like to share with you the story of how I met the man we’re here to celebrate today, my friend and brother, John Sweeney.
This was 1982, not long after I became president of the United Mine Workers of America.
Another union had a reception for me. I didn’t know many folks there. I knew some, but there were a lot of new faces.
A man walked up to me, shook my hand and started to ask me questions.
I’m sure you’ve had this happen in your life. He had hardly said five words before I knew I liked him. He was so genuine, so humble and so interested. Honestly, he congratulated me so sincerely and with such joy that you’d have thought he had won, too.
The truth is, we both won that day, because it was the beginning of a long, deep and rewarding friendship. The man was John Sweeney. At that time, he was the president of the Service Employees International Union.
Most of you already know the rest of the story, or at least the broad strokes of it. John Sweeney became president of the AFL-CIO in 1995, with me as the Secretary-Treasurer. In 2009, I became president. John Sweeney stood by my side every step of the way.
If you know those broad strokes, and you want to understand the heart of the man behind them, I urge you to dig into John’s memoir.
It reveals a side of John that most people have not seen. He talks about his childhood, his parents and his union. He talks about his faith and how it guided him. In fact, he got into unionism because he believed it to be one of the best ways to live out his values. His career in the labor movement was a spiritual calling.
Here’s something important for you to know. From the time we first met about 35 years ago, John set a powerful example for me personally and for the entire labor movement. He built SEIU from a sleepy little union into a powerhouse. His style has never been flashy, but he always got results. He built deep and lasting relationships. He earned a lot of respect.
I am honored to have served alongside John Sweeney. I’m proud to call him my brother. He’s truly a wonderful man, one of the only people who faithfully lives that old adage, “it’s better to give than to receive.”
Please give a warm hand to John Sweeney, and everybody… read his book! God bless you.