This week, I was proud to honor the “Pioneers of the Farm Worker Movement” by inducting them into the Department of Labor Hall of Honor.
The farm worker movement was propelled through the courage of thousands of ordinary people inspired to act in an extraordinary way. They took the very best of other social justice movements and wrote the playbook for progressive activism. They borrowed lessons from Ghandi and Martin Luther King and married them with modern strategies to influence American consumers. They merged peaceful civil disobedience with marches, boycotts and strikes.
People everywhere heard the pioneers’ message: Our work has value! We deserve to be safe! And if you don’t protect us, and you don’t pay us an honest wage, we’ll turn the good people of this country against you!
Time after time, that’s exactly what they did.
It was such a special occasion for me because I, too, am a product of this movement. My father was a Bracero who left Veracruz to take seasonal work in the fields of America. He worked hard in the fields because he believed it would put him on a path to give his family opportunities he never had. It’s because of him that this daughter of a farm worker became the first Latina U.S. Secretary of Labor.
Following the induction, I held another ceremony to dedicate the Department of Labor Cesar Estrada Chavez Memorial Auditorium.
When my staff and I sat down to think about the best way to honor the legacy of Cesar Chavez, we wanted to do something special. We didn’t want to just hang a plaque or a painting. Or unveil a bust or a sculpture. Cesar’s work was never about glorifying himself. It was about empowering and inspiring the people around him. And building a movement that would outlive him—that would outlive all of us.
So in this spirit of unity and brotherhood, we decided the best way to honor such a man was to name our auditorium in his honor. After all, this is the place where we at the Department come together. It’s is a place where we draw inspiration from one another and share ideas. It’s a place where we learn from our setbacks—and celebrate our victories—on behalf of the American worker.
Now, as I walk past the Hall of Honor and Cesar Estrada Chavez Memorial Auditorium, they serve a reminder not just of our history, but also of our continuing responsibility to the American worker. They’re places where we can learn from our past and draw strength for a better future. Even in the hardest times.