Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
Each May, we pay tribute to the generations of Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have enriched our nation’s history and are instrumental in its future success.
Among the many remarkable women who were on the frontlines of the struggle for social and economic justice in the labor movement is May Chen—a contemporary leader who retired just a decade ago.
She was a Chinese immigrant, and was a member of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). In 1982, she organized and led the New York Chinatown strike, where about 20,000 garment factory workers marched the streets of lower Manhattan demanding higher wages, improved working conditions, and that management observe the Confucian principles of fairness and respect.
Management thought they could play on ethnic loyalties to get workers to turn away from the union, but instead, were forced to hold back on wage cuts and withdraw their demands for workers to give away their holidays and some benefits.
She helped launch the Immigration Project in 1984, which helped thousands of ILGWU members to apply for U.S. citizenship.
That same Immigration Project was the first union-created legal advocacy department for immigrant members.
She went on to serve on the Asian Labor Committee of the New York City Central Labor Council and was a founding member of the AFL-CIO’s Asian-Pacific American Labor Alliance.
Today, the SEIU Local 1000 Asian-Pacific Islander (API) Committee works to empower APIs in the labor movement by ensuring that API workers are recognized, valued, and respected. They also work to apply that power to share the social, economic, and political issues facing us by developing API members to lead in our Union, in our worksites and in our communities.