UNITE HERE’s history can be traced to the beginnings of the North American labor movement and is rooted in organizing among workers in the garment and restaurant industries. Past and present, immigrant workers, Black workers and other people of color have been at the center of our Union’s efforts to end poverty and change lives—from over 100 years ago, when our immigrant founders led the historic Bread and Roses strike, to today, leading campaigns taking on some of the world’s most powerful billionaires and institutions.
Our union traces its history back to the early days of industrialization, when immigrants toiled in dangerous sweatshops for meager wages –conditions that led to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911 that killed 146 workers in New York City, most of them young, immigrant women. The fire was a turning point in our union and in the labor movement, as workers –led by young immigrant women–fought to win safe workplaces and union rights that continue to benefit workers today.
In the years that followed, our union ancestors laid the groundwork to make textile, garment, laundry, and hospitality jobs good, family-sustaining jobs. They also took the fight for justice outside the workplace. In the 1960s, New York’s HERE locals marched in support of lunch counter sit-ins to end segregation in the South. Forty years later, UNITE HERE led the labor movement to reverse its position on immigrant labor and advocate for immigration reform, organizing the Immigrant Workers’ Freedom Ride in 2003 to counter anti-immigrant bigotry and xenophobia in the wake of 9/11.
In modern times, we have held the line on strikes at the Las Vegas Frontier Hotel & Casino and in Atlantic City; built our political power to engage entirely new generations and demographics of voters; and supported one another through tragedies like the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the Great Recession, the 2017 shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, and the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Our union has survived boom and bust cycles because of our fortitude, our members’ hard work, and our commitment to one another—to solidarity—in the face of entrenched powers-that-be who seek to divide and conquer.