Mike Williams, the longtime president of the Florida AFL-CIO and a giant in the labor movement, died Saturday, June 17.
AFL-CIO official Rich Templin said in a statement that Williams died from a water accident at his home in St. Marks, Florida.
“Mike served as the federation’s President since 2009. He has been one of the most transformative labor leaders in Florida history and worked tirelessly to improve the lives of working families across the state, union and non-union alike,” Templin said.
Dan Reynolds, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Florida AFL-CIO said, “Mike Williams dedicated his life to the fight for justice and dignity for Florida’s workers. He was our leader and our friend, and his passing is a massive loss for our movement. We will dedicate ourselves to continue the fight for workers just as he would expect and will do everything we can to honor his incredible legacy of courage, dedication and service.”
Out of respect for his family’s privacy, no further details will be provided at this time, Templin said.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried released this statement:
“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Mike Williams. Mike will remain a giant in the labor movement, leaving a long legacy of service and commitment to America’s workers. Mike started his career like so many Floridians, working in the trades after completing an apprenticeship as a construction electrician and joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as a card carrying union member from day one.
“As President of Florida AFL-CIO for the past 15 years, Mike organized, advocated and revitalized the labor community in Florida, serving as a powerful advocate for workers’ rights fighting until the end for a living wage, healthcare, retirement benefits, education and training opportunities.
“A man of character and conviction, Mike showed us how to stand up for what we believe in and never failed to remind us who built America. We are committed to continuing the work of his enduring legacy. May he rest in peace.”
The Florida AFL-CIO is the largest federation of labor unions in Florida, comprised of over 500 local unions representing 1.6 million union members, retirees, and their families, according to Templin.
Here is biographical information about Williams, from the Florida AFL-CIO:
Mike was introduced to Florida’s labor movement after completing his apprenticeship as a construction electrician. For Mike, holding a union card made all the difference in the world. That card meant having dignity and respect on the job, a living wage, healthcare, retirement benefits, education, and training opportunities. Mike learned early on in his career that for far too many middle class families these basic work place rights remain out of reach as they struggle to pay the rent, put food on the table or seek medical attention.
“I worked many temporary jobs in the service and construction industries living paycheck to paycheck. Becoming a member of the union meant finally having my hard work pay off by creating an opportunity for achieving personal goals and being able to provide for my family the way I wanted to. And it meant having the opportunity to achieve the American dream, a dream that so many want to take away today.”
After working his trade for 15 years, Mike decided to take on leadership roles with his union by becoming the Business Manager of his Local, IBEW 177, based in Jacksonville. Eight years later, Mike went on to serve as President of the Florida Building Trades Council, building it into a powerful voice for construction trades statewide.
Mike understood the impact a voice on the job can make on the lives of working people. But it wasn’t until a trip to Colombia with the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center that he understood the global imperative of worker solidarity. During the trip, Mike witnessed the damage both corporate and governmental forces could inflict on the rights of workers, and the dangers of living in a state lacking the institutions to help combat these abuses. He saw violence and hatred directed at those who were just trying to organize for better living conditions and to make a better life for their families. The trip solidified Mike’s commitment to fight for all working people.
In 2009, Mike was elected President of the Florida AFL-CIO. During his term, he has revitalized the vision of labor to represent all workers and fostered new alliances with community, immigrant and faith based groups. He refocused the organization on its core values and strengthened its political influence through grassroots activism and mobilizations.
Thanks to Mike’s leadership, the Florida AFL-CIO has expanded its powerful legislative and political advocacy program, and continues to be a central force in building coalitions between labor and community organizations. The state federation remains dedicated more than ever to provide a powerful voice for working families in the sunshine state.
–Diane Rado, Florida Phoenix