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Green went to work himself in the coal mines in 1879 at the age of 16. He became involved in the trade union movement as a young miner, gaining election as secretary of the Coshocton Progressive Miners Union in 1891.
In 1910, he was elected to the Ohio Senate, where he served as both Senate president pro tempore and Democratic floor leader. He was named to the AFL Executive Council in 1914, and became Secretary-Treasurer in 1916.
In 1924 he became president of the AFL following the death of Samuel Gompers, a position he held until his death. He is best remembered for having presided over the split in the AFL which led to the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
Green died November 21, 1952. He was 79 years old at the time of his death.
Green was regarded, both by his contemporaries and historically, as a very mild mannered leader who deferred on nearly all matters to aides such as Matthew Woll and his more distinguished successor George Meany.