This month marks the 145th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
On May 9, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez formally inducted into the Labor Hall of Honor about 12,000 Chinese immigrant laborers who worked on the Central Pacific Railroad between 1865 and 1869. They are the first Asian Americans to receive such a tribute since the establishment of the Hall of Honor in 1988.
Joining Perez in the ceremony at the César E. Chávez Memorial Auditorium in Washington D.C. were U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Christopher P. Lu, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Portia Wu, Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Patricia A. Shiu, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, former Secretary of Commerce and Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, and Director of the National Domestic Worker Alliance Ai-jen Poo.
“It was backbreaking, dangerous work,” wrote Secretary Perez on the Dept. of Labor blog.
“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.”
Enduring prejudice, low wages, and social isolation, Perez said, “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.”
“I am proud to see the Chinese railroad workers recognized for the contributions they made to our country,” said California U.S. Rep Judy Chu. “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.”
“Being part of this induction ceremony was a tremendous honor,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng of New York. “These workers played an integral role in the growth of our nation and they’re a key part of American history. Despite the dangerous and challenging working conditions they were forced to endure, these individuals worked tirelessly to help build our country.” (end)