Image of former AFL-CIO President Thomas Donahue speaking into microphone

In Memoriam: Former AFL-CIO President Thomas Donahue

Thomas R. Donahue became executive assistant to AFL-CIO President George Meany in 1973 and, after Meany’s retirement in 1979, was elected secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, a position he held for 16 years. As secretary-treasurer, Donahue led the labor movement’s efforts to develop institutional responses that would ensure its continued strength in its changing economic and political circumstances. In 1982, the AFL-CIO Executive Council formed the Committee on the Evolution of Work with Donahue as its chair.

Under Donahue’s leadership, the AFL-CIO launched a number of initiatives inspired by the report, including the recruitment of “associate members,” new financial services for union members and new resources and administrative structures for organizing. In 1994, the committee released a third report, The New American Workplace: A Labor Perspective, A Call for Partnership, which laid out labor’s response to work reorganization and joint labor-management partnerships. In 1995, after Lane Kirkland retired as president of the AFL-CIO, the Executive Council selected Donahue to serve out the remaining months of Kirkland’s term. 

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond said in a statement, “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…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.”

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