RIP John Sweeney, AFL-CIO President Emeritus

John Sweeney, former president of the AFL-CIO died Feb. 1.

Sweeny dedicated his life to working people. He was an organizer, working the streets looking to help people have a voice in their workplaces. In a speech before the AFSA Convention in 2009, he said:

"It was some 70 years ago when Woody Guthrie first sang that 'this land was made for you and me.' Today, we in the union movement have a chance that comes maybe once in a generation to help make Woody's song come true.

"We're turning America around. We're fighting for the schools our kids deserve, good jobs, affordable health care coverage for all, and pension security—and we're struggling to restore workers' freedom to join unions."

Former AFSA President Jill S. Levy, who knew John and worked with him during her time in national office, said:

"John Sweeney was a master of the AFL-CIO composed of diverse member unions, some with stature and others seeking a voice.

"Affable, straightforward in his relationships, Sweeney championed the right of working people to come together and choose to join the labor movement.  Committed to fair labor practices, President Sweeney knew the political and practical paths to  achieve AFL-CIO goals.

"Among the smaller members, AFSA was invited to join the Executive Council with an equal voice and the respect due to all members. As busy as he was, when we called upon him to address our national convention, he took the time to join AFSA in Las Vegas and motivate the delegates with his clarity, dedication and respect for school administrators."

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on the passing of Sweeney, said:

"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."

The entire AFSA family sends condolences to his family.