tags: , , , , , AVEF, Blog

On May Day, Let’s Celebrate Workers’ Contributions – And Keep Fighting For Their Rights and Dignity

Share This:

Ahead of this upcoming International Workers’ Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of workers and the labor movement, we recognize and honor the laborers – millions of whom are immigrants – who are critical to our everyday lives and national economy through their work caring for our loved ones, their work building our homes and repairing our roads, their hospitality work central to the tourism industry, their work harvesting the food that feeds us, and much more.

We honor and recognize the work and contributions of Rigoberto, a United Farm Workers (UFW) member and one of the roughly 2.4 million farmworkers nationwide who are the backbone of the agricultural industry and keep food on our tables. During the recent César Chávez Day commemoration, he said it wasn’t that long ago that widespread “working conditions for the farmworkers were deplorable.”

“The situation was that there were no toilets for the farmworkers, so they had to go in the bathroom in the field,” Rigoberto said. “I can imagine the humiliation they must have felt. Someone had to right this wrong and that person was César. Thanks to the workers, to the warriors who accompanied him in his struggles, he was able to make the change.”

At least half of these workers lack legal immigration status (in California, this number could be as high as 75%), and have risked their lives working during the novel coronavirus pandemic and in extreme, life-threatening heat to keep us fed. Many do so while living at risk of deportation due to being undocumented, a status which also makes them more vulnerable to workplace abuses and exploitation.

In recent years, farmworkers have won major labor victories that are important to recognize. In 2023, farmworkers and labor organizers in New York scored one of their biggest wins in years when UFW unionized 500 workers across four apple farms and one vegetable farm in the state. “It’s the union’s biggest organizing success in years, and the first time the California-based union has organized in the north-east,” The Guardian reported

“Sometimes we are pushed to work so hard, it doesn’t feel doable,” said farmworker Santos Mendoza Escamilla. “It was always the boss’s word. Now with a union, we feel we have someone pushing back.”

We honor and recognize the work and contributions of immigrant caregivers, who not only provide critical services and companionship to our loved ones but also play an “outsized role” in caring for seniors and people with disabilities, Immigration Impact noted in 2023. “In 2019, 36.5% of all home health aides in the United States were immigrants, a rate that was twice their share of the U.S. workforce overall (17.1%),” wrote researcher Karen Aho. “This includes undocumented workers, who made up an estimated 6.9% of home health aides and 4.4% of personal care aides.” 

Among them is Maria Barahona, an SEIU Local 2015 member and home care provider, who wrote in Newsweek that immigrants like herself “are the invisible force behind the workforce, enabling others to go to work and keep our economy moving forward.” Immigrant women and women of color dominate this industry, Barahona continued. “Yet, historically, our contributions have been undervalued and overlooked.”

Barahona knows the value of her work, however. She wrote that she’s a home care provider for two senior citizens, “one battling dementia and another who is a disabled U.S. veteran. These individuals have dedicated their lives to their families, their communities, and their country, and it’s my job to make sure they receive the dignified care they deserve.” Nearly 30,000 DACA recipients are health workers, and were in the frontlines of the pandemic.

We honor and recognize the work and contributions of hospitality workers who are key to tourism all over the country. In the Las Vegas area alone, 45% of the Culinary Union Local 226’s membership is immigrant. “Culinary Union members work as: Guest room attendants, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks, bartenders, laundry and kitchen workers,” the union said. “The Culinary Union has been fighting for working families in Nevada for 88 years.” 

Union organizing has been key to critical wins for Las Vegas workers (in addition to representing an electoral powerhouse when it comes to state and national politics). This past November, Culinary Workers members announced a tentative agreement with MGM Resorts International that includes “the largest wage increases ever negotiated in Culinary Union’s 88 year history.” Not only are immigrant workers helping take on some of the biggest corporations in the nation, they’re winning at it. The agreement also includes “workload reductions for guest room attendants, mandated daily room cleaning,” and “increased safety protections for workers on-the-job,” a statement said.

“We’ve been able to get health care and have job security in a restaurant or hotel, which normally doesn’t happen,” Culinary Workers Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge said last year. “We’ve been able to create jobs with security, health care, and pensions. We have a housing fund that helps people buy homes. We have a free legal services fund. What we’ve been able to do here is something that helps raise all boats.”

We honor and recognize the work and contributions of the workers who quite literally are constructing our future through their essential labor building our homes and businesses, constructing our roads, and, like the six immigrant workers who tragically lost their lives in Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, labor in the early morning hours to repair the bridge for the benefit of all drivers. Miguel Luna, Dorlian Cabrera, Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, Jose Mynor Lopez, Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval, and a sixth unidentified man died pursuing their American Dream while building a stronger America for all of us.

“Construction work has long played a critical role for the immigrant community as a fundamental employer, a skill-building opportunity, and a source of entrepreneurialism,” Dr. Carlos Martín, Project Director of the Remodeling Futures Program at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, wrote for the Urban Institute in 2016. 

Indeed, roughly 2.2 million construction workers are immigrants, representing a historic high according to Census figures. In the Baltimore and Washington region, immigrants make up nearly 40% of the construction workforce, specializing in carpentry, drywall, roofing, brick masonry, and painting. “In some areas of the country, such as the Southwest, all work crews are immigrants,” Dr. Martín continued. “This trend is even more pronounced in some hazardous occupations, like construction laborers, roofers, and drywallers.” 

Construction workers also bear some of the most significant brunt of workplace injuries and fatalities. In New York City, “indigenous Guatemalan construction workers in Brooklyn have succeeded in making their workplace a lot safer,” Documented reported, following a campaign demanding their employer “increase their wages and provide a safer worker environment by recognizing their right to form a workplace safety committee.”


“We don’t have to risk ourselves anymore to do those kinds of jobs,” construction worker Porfirio Lopez told Documented. “This is for the benefit of all the future workers.”

As the nation celebrates May Day, remember how immigrant workers and their households are major participants in our economy, contributing a total of $524.7 billion in total taxes in 2021. Immigrant workers have also been described as “natural entrepreneurs,” with one study finding that they’re as much as 80% more likely to start a company. These workers, their skills, and hopes are key to our future. On May Day, we honor and recognize them and commit to fighting alongside them to ensure their full rights, protections, and dignity.