WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 9, 2014) — The U.S. Department of Labor on Friday inducted “The Chinese Railroad Workers (1865 — 1869)” into it’s “Labor Hall of Honor.”
The entry reads that “From 1865-1869, 12,000 Chinese immigrants constructed the western section of the transcontinental railroad — one of the greatest engineering feats in American history. Their efforts, which connected the western United States to the eastern United States, laid the foundation for the extraordinary economic prosperity enjoyed by the United States in the years that followed. Many of these workers risked their lives and perished during the harsh winters and dangerous working conditions. They faced prejudice, low wages and social isolation. Despite these challenges, they courageously took a stand to organize for fairer wages and safer working conditions. Their efforts not only bridged our nation together, they advanced the cause of good, safe jobs for all workers, immigrant and native workers alike.”
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez formally inducted Chinese Railroad Workers into the Labor Hall of Honor. The recognition goes to the first Asian Americans to be represented in the Labor Hall of Honor since its establishment in 1988,
In his blog, Perez commented that “145 years ago on May 10, 1869 the word “DONE” was telegraphed to Washington D.C., sending word that the final spike had been driven in to complete the First Transcontinental Railroad. It was one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the 19th century, connecting the country from coast-to-coast, facilitating commerce and opening the door for massive economic expansion. Before its completion, cross-country travel took six months. The railroad reduced it to a single week.
“But too often lost in discussions of this awe-inspiring achievement is the contribution of the approximately 12,000 Chinese laborers who took on the grueling task of completing the western section of the track.
“It was backbreaking, dangerous work. Many of these workers died from the harsh winters and brutal conditions. They laid tracks on terrain that rose 7,000 feet in less than 100 miles, chipped away at the granite and planted explosives that were used to blast tunnels through the treacherous Sierra Nevada Mountains.
“They also faced prejudice, low wages and social isolation. Nevertheless, the Chinese Railroad Workers courageously took a stand to organize for fairer wages and safer working conditions. In addition to connecting the nation and building its infrastructure, they also advanced American ideals of equal opportunity and the dignity of work for everyone, immigrant and American-born alike.
“For their courage and sacrifice, and in recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, today I inducted the Chinese Railroad Workers into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor. Among those enshrined there: César Chávez, Helen Keller, Frances Perkins, the 9/11 Rescue Workers and the Workers of the Memphis Sanitation Strike. But never until now has this tribute been bestowed on an Asian-American group or individual.
Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC applauded the induction.
“I am proud to see the Chinese Railroad Workers recognized for the contributions they made to our country,” said U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), CAPAC Chair. “In the face of dangerous labor conditions and discriminatory treatment, these immigrant laborers gave their blood, sweat, and tears to connect our country from coast-to-coast. They created the backbone of our nation’s infrastructure and paved the way for America’s prosperity. I applaud Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Deputy Secretary Chris Lu for their leadership to ensure these stories are part of the greater American narrative.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (CA-17), CAPAC Chair Emeritus, commended Perez for recognizing the pivotal role that Asian Americans played in creating the vital infrastructure that is the transcontinental railroad.
“Their toil and labor helped produce one of the greatest engineering feats in American history,” Honda said. “These 12,000 Chinese immigrants laid the foundation for modern day unions. Their courage to organize and fight for safe working conditions, demand to be treated with respect, and be paid a fair wage has led to many improvements in employment for all Americans. I salute these workers, and Secretary Perez, for acknowledging their efforts and heroism. I am proud that these Chinese railroad workers have been inducted into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor.”
U.S. Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (American Samoa), said that it was appropriate to pay tribute to these pioneers.
“Remaining steadfast and faithful through challenges, they boldly advocated for fair treatment and paved the way for the American value of equal opportunity,” he said. “As Asian Pacific Americans, we are privileged to share in their heritage. Furthermore, as Americans, we all share in the greatness of a Nation that they helped to build.”
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (NY-6), said it was an honor to attend the induction ceremony.
“These workers played an integral role in the growth of our nation and they’re a key part of American history,” she said. “…I’m proud to salute the long overdue recognition that they’ve finally received.”