Press Releases
February 19, 2015

Chicago unions join President Obama to honor city’s first national park in Pullman

Chicago unions join President Obama to honor city’s first national park in Pullman

Today, President Barack Obama was joined by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez, labor and government officials, and union members at Brooks Academy on Chicago’s South Side to designate Pullman Historic District a national monument.

“As Americans we believe workers’ rights are civil rights,” said President Obama to a capacity crowd. Adding, “So this site is at the heart of what would become America’s labor movement -- and as a consequence, at the heart of what would become America’s middle class.”

“The Pullman neighborhood is an important landmark in the landscape of labor history, as well as in the fight for racial equality,” said Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez. “Having the President here today, designating Pullman as a national park, once again brings the struggles of the Pullman factory workers, the Pullman Porters and the labor movement as a whole to the forefront and honors their fight for a rightful place in the middle class.”

The struggles at Pullman highlighted the class difference between the rich and the working poor. The Pullman Strike in 1894 was in response to Pullman Palace Company Car owner George Pullman lowering his workers’ wages without lowering their rents, following a national recession. The strike went nationwide, calling on rail workers across the country to refuse to move any train carrying a Pullman car. In 1925, A. Philip Randolph and the Pullman Porters, workers aboard passenger trains, founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the nation’s first African-American labor union, in an effort to improve their own wages and working conditions.

During his remarks, President Obama stated, “Gradually our country would add protections that we now take for granted: a 40-hour workweek, the weekend, overtime pay, safe workplace conditions and the right to organize for higher wages and better opportunities.”

Ramirez added, “The labor movement has always been about raising people up and creating a robust middle class by protecting basic rights like a living wage, access to health care and workplace safety,” said Ramirez. “Hearing President Obama talk about the importance of the labor movement in our nation’s history and our relevance today is a boost to workers across this state and the nation. Today we continue to be inspired by these workers for bravely fighting for their rights, and continue their legacy by standing in solidarity and continuing the fight for middle class workers.”