WASHINGTON – Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and the Department of Labor has inducted a group of Thai garment workers who helped expose their former employer’s abusive labor practices in 1995 into the department’s Hall of Honor. The group, who spurred changes in legal protections for workers nationwide, were honored at a ceremony held on Sept. 18, 2023, at the department’s Washington headquarters.
The department recognized the group, which became known as the “El Monte Thai Garment Workers,” for the resilience and courage they showed in overcoming their enslavement in a sweatshop in El Monte, California. In addition to helping protect other workers, their case serves as a valuable reminder of why continued vigilance and commitment is needed to prevent the horrors they faced from reoccurring.
“What these workers experienced was not an isolated incident,” said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su. “The global economy has left too many behind for too long: leaving workers, especially women workers, with the responsibility to support their families without the good jobs with which to do so. Honoring these women and men here today allows us to celebrate how far we’ve come and also remember how much more work we have left to do. It also reminds us that real progress isn’t measured only in monetary wins or even in policy changes. The most profound changes are personal. Like our honorees, standing up, building power, exercising their rights, and against all odds defying the message they have heard their entire lives: that they should just keep their heads down and know their place.”
Joining Acting Secretary Su to honor 25 of the 81 Thai women and men who attended the induction ceremony were Sen. Tammy Duckworth and UCLA Labor Center Director Kent Wong.
“These workers found their power years after it had been wrested away from them, and with the help of advocates, attorneys, public servants and law enforcement agents who fought side by side with them, they finally tasted the freedom that America had long ago promised,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth. “Our nation is forever in debt to these men and women for the treatment they were forced to face right here at home. But we are also now forever thankful for how they used that experience to push the country that had so wronged them to do right by others.”
“This case became a national model and an inspiration to workers across the country,” explained UCLA Labor Center Director Kent Wong “At the heart of this case was a group of mainly women, immigrant garment workers who stood up, spoke up and organized for justice. Today we celebrate their courage, their resilience and the power of their collective action.”
“We are grateful and lucky that President Biden picked Julie to work in the Department of Labor to fight for all workers,” former El Monte garment Worker Nantha Jaknang said.
“I never imagined I would be honored at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. This means so much to me and my family. We brought the case against the companies; we went to the court. I know we worked very hard to stand up here for our rights. We changed the laws. This is very special, to speak in front of my family and all of you. I cannot believe I am going to be remembered in history along with my friends,” said Maliwan Radomphon Clinton, another member of the El Monte workers group.
Established in 1988, the Hall of Honor recognizes the accomplishments and impact of dozens of groups and individuals on the nation’s workforce and workplaces. The hall is located inside the north plaza of the department’s headquarters in the Frances Perkins Building.