Thomas R. Donahue

Thomas R. Donahue

Thomas Reilly Donahue (born September 4, 1928) was Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO from 1979 to 1995 and served briefly as its acting President during the second half of 1995.

Early life

Born and raised in New York City, after receiving his undergraduate degree at Manhattan College he became a business agent for the New York local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), during which time it became one of the most powerful unions in the city of New York. In 1963 he became assistant to the President of the national SEIU and then served as Assistant Secretary of Labor during the last two years of the Johnson Administration. From 1969 to 1973 he served as Executive Secretary of SEIU and became executive assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO, George Meany, in 1973.

Career as a labor leader

Already an influential figure as Meany's executive assistant, when Meany retired in 1979 Donahue was elected Secretary-Treasurer. In this capacity Donahue played a leading role in the AFL-CIO's critical support movement for Poland's Solidarnosc or Solidarity movement, which succeeded in establishing free trade unions in the Soviet bloc and was a key catalyst for the fall of Communism.

In this vein he further played a key role in the establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy and has served on its board for several non-consecutive terms. Most notably, while serving as its vice chairman from 2002 to 2004, Donahue voiced his criticisms of the Endowment's role in the failed coup attempt against Hugo Chávez in 2002 to "National Catholic Reporter".

In 1993, Donahue was the leading public spokesman, along with Ross Perot, of the national campaign against the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Today, he is a board member of the Albert Shanker Institute.

AFL-CIO power struggle

The massive Republican congressional victories in 1994 represented a moment of crisis for organized labor and served to catalyze long simmering dissatisfaction in the AFL-CIO with Kirkland's leadership. Donahue could probably have been easily elected to succeed Kirkland were it not for the latter's resistance to passing the scene gracefully. The dissenting union leaders quickly lined up behind the leadership of Donahue's former protege and then-SEIU President John Sweeney, who proved unable to reach an amiable resolution with Kirkland and Donahue. Kirkland finally stepped down in the late spring of 1995 and Donahue became President, defeating Sweeney in an Executive Council election 22 to 11. Sweeney defeated Donahue at the AFL-CIO convention in December 1995.


After a first marriage which produced two children, in 1979 Tom Donahue married Rachelle Horowitz, who served for over 25 years as political director of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Together they currently lead an active retirement, split between their Washington, D.C. residence and a home on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

External links

* [ AFL-CIO biography]

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