In 2008, Tromka gained widespread attention for his powerful speech to United Steelworkers about racism in the context of Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy. In fact, Trumka gave copies of that speech to other groups, making the message as wide as possible. In the speech, Tromka spoke of meeting a woman in his hometown of Nimaculin, Pennsylvania, on the day of the state’s presidential primary. When she told him she couldn’t vote for Obama, he pressured her through a series of excuses until she admitted it was because Obama was black.
And I said, ‘Look around this town.’ Nemacolin is a dying city. “There are no jobs here,” Tromka said. “Our children are turning away because there is no future here. And here is a man, Barack Obama, who is going to fight for people like us, and you want to tell me that you will not vote for him because of the color of his skin? Have you lost your loving mind, Mrs.?”
“Look, brothers and sisters, we can’t dance around the fact that there are a lot of people out there, just like that woman, and a lot of them are good union people—they can’t get past the idea that there’s something wrong with voting for a black man. Well, those of us who know Better they can’t stand sitting silently or looking the other way while this is happening.”
He went on to detail the times in US history when organized workers similarly defended civil rights and against racism. (This is by no means the only racial history of the American labor movement, to be clear.)
Recently, it was tromka out loud in favor of vaccination mandates.
As news of his death spread, Tromka was also fondly remembered for one of his shortest statements ever:
The American labor movement has been through hard times for decades now, and Tromka certainly couldn’t stop the losses. But he was a strong leader who tried to push the unions forward and nurture the toilers at every turn. This is a huge loss.