Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

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Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO


n 1992, over 500 Asian Pacific American labor activists from around the country gathered in Washington D.C. for the founding convention of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO.

Prior to the founding convention several local APA labor groups were formed. The Asian American Labor Committee in New York, the Asian American Federation of Union Members in San Francisco, and the Alliance of Asian Pacific Labor in Los Angeles were all created to meet regional labor needs. Still there was a necessity for a national coalition. In 1990, APA labor activists approached the AFL-CIO with a historic proposal to form a national Asian Pacific American labor group.

As a result, in 1991, the AFL-CIO Executive Council established a committee to explore the formation of a national APA labor group. The Steering Committee that was formed from this proposal included the three regional APA labor groups, representatives from the Hawaii State AFL-CIO, and representatives from the seven founding unions.

The stated goals of APALA were to create an organization, which would educate APA workers; promote political education and voter registration programs among APAs; and promote training, empowerment, and leadership of APAs within the labor movement and APA community. APALA further set out to defend and advocate for the civil and human rights of APAs, immigrants and people of color and to develop ties within international labor organizations, especially in Asia and the Pacific.[1].

Marxist roots

According to Kent Wong, writing in "Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America" by Carol Antonio, page 90-91;

The formation of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) in 1992 was a milestone in providing a voice for Asian Americans within the labor movement...The establishment of APALA has its roots in the Asian American Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Revolutionary movements of the 1960s and 1970s, domestically and internationally nurtured the Asian American Movement...Asian American activists were involved in the civil rights movement and the movement against the Vietnam War...Asian Americans led and joined Marxist study groups around the country. Asian American activists gained inspiration from the Vietnamese struggle for liberation, and from the Chinese revolution and the teachings of Mao Zedong.
Asian American activists played prominent roles in a number of emerging Marxist-Leninist organizations in the 1970s...Many Asian American activists left college to work as grass roots organizers in the Asian American community, or to seek jobs in factories, to build a workers movement.
In the 1980s, Asian activists began to set up Asian labor committees in key cities around the country...From 10091 to 1992, there were a series of national meetings of Asian American trade unionists...The founding convention of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance in 1992, surpassed everyone's expectations...

Kent Wong was elected founding President. The other three officers were Pat Lee from SEIU, May Chen from the ILGWU, and Norman Ahakuelo from the Electrical Workers.

Matt Finucane from the Flight Attendants Union, was hired as APALA's first Executive Director.

APALA founders

Jean Quan was one of SEIU’s Asian-American international organizers, and along with Josie Camacho and Victor Uno, were among the founders of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance .[2]

Open Letter to the Biden Campaign on “Unprepared”

Open Letter to the Biden Campaign on “Unprepared” was released May 12 2020.

":Our demands: The country’s greatest priority at this moment is to beat the COVID-19 crisis, and this requires embracing principles of antiracist solidarity and international cooperation. The Biden campaign can and should beat Trump and the GOP with a message centered on our real public health needs and the progressive values that are required to meet those needs. The “Unprepared” ad must be taken down, and all campaign messaging that fuels anti-Asian racism and China-bashing must end. We refuse to allow the Biden campaign to sacrifice our dignity in the name of political expediency."

Signatories included Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance


Leadership 2018

2018 Board Members

2009-2011 National officers;[4]

Executive board


Asian Pacific American workers’ rights hearings

2009 hearing

On November 13, 2009, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance convened the first National Asian Pacific American Worker’s Rights Hearing, a historic gathering of over 200 APA trade unionists and community allies. The hearing was convened in the Samuel Gompers room of the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington D.C. APAs nationwide spoke about challenges they faced in exercising their right to organize including employer intimidation, immigrant worker exploitation, health and safety violations, wage theft and union suppression – while also highlighting the strategies that individual workers and unions have developed in the fight for worker solidarity and economic justice

These worker testimonies, policy solutions, and additional research were presented in APALA's groundbreaking report, Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence, which was published in 2010.

Over 200 people from across the country attended this historic hearing.

The hearing was co-convened by APALA and the AFL-CIO, in partnership with over 20 national and local organizations, to provide the first national platform for APA workers focused on the right to organize and the rights of immigrant workers.

Hearing panelists included:[5]

2011 hearing


Saturday, April 9th, 2011, at the Japanese American National Museum, 369 East 1st St., Los Angeles, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance held a hearing on the the stories and testimonies of Asian Pacific American workers and their struggles to organize. Features panels on healthcare, immigrant rights, and the involvement of youth in the labor movement. The event included performances by Progressive Taiko and KIWA’s Cultural Resistance Committee drumming group.[6]

Speakers were;

Meng endorsement

The New York chapter of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance "enthusiastically endorsed" Assemblywoman Grace Meng for Congress in the newly drawn 6th Congressional District at their May 2012 general meeting. Assemblywoman Meng also has the endorsement of the Alliance of South Asian American Labor.

Alex Hing, Secretary of APALA’s New York chapter, stated: “The APALA New York chapter enthusiastically endorses Assemblywoman Grace Meng for Congress. Grace is a strong supporter of organized labor and a fighter for immigrant rights. If elected, she will be the first Asian American congressperson from the East Coast. In Washington, Grace can be trusted to advance a progressive, inclusive agenda for the entire community.[7]

The New York chapter of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) enthusiastically endorsed then Assemblywoman Grace Meng for Congress in the newly drawn 6th Congressional District. They were active in her campaign and helped bring her to victory, becoming New York’s first Asian American Congresswoman.

Meng said;

I am proud and honored to receive the endorsement of APALA. The members of APALA work hard each and every day to provide for their families. During these difficult economic times, where the needs and concerns of working families and the middle-class have been shoved aside, the men and women of APALA continue to persevere in hope of achieving the American Dream. I very much look forward to serving as an outspoken advocate on their behalf a s a member of Congress.”

– Rep. Grace Meng (NY-6)[8]

Hilda Solis on APALA

According to Hilda Solis, the Secretary of Labor.

“APALA has been at the forefront of engaging Asian Pacific American workers and the larger community in the fight for social & economic justice. The Department of Labor looks forward to strengthening our partnership to ensure all workers have the tools and information necessary to stand up for their rights.[9]

Vietnam Solidarity Network

Over 40 young Vietnamese-Americans and six US labor leaders and activists met at the UCLA Labor Center near downtown Los Angeles October 25 2014, to discuss the growing relationships between workers in the United States and workers in Vietnam. The report-back was given by the Vietnam Solidarity Network, a project initiated by UCLA Labor Center, in alliance with the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) and the Southern California Viet Gathering (SCVG). The meeting was chaired by Natalie Newton, a Vietnamese-American with the Service Employees International Union Local 721 in LA, and a leader of both the Los Angeles APALA and SCVG.

Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center and a vice president of the California Federation of Teachers, explained that Vietnam opened part of its economy in the mid-1980's to foreign companies and privately owned Vietnamese firms. This greatly helped raise people's living standards. But it also brought new problems such as difficult working conditions especially at many foreign firms. Since workers in all countries are suffering, the solution is to build international labor solidarity to help each other, Wong said. Wong is co-author of the book, "Organizing on Separate Shores," about Vietnamese, and Vietnamese-American union organizers, published by an arm of the Labor Center.

Newton gave an overview of Vietnam, its government, and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement led by the US and other capitalist countries which Vietnam has joined. She explained that Vietnam has grown from one of the poorest countries in the world to a major exporter of rice and other food, electronics, computers and other products with the help of western capital and know-how. But, she warned, the TPP will also bring negative impacts to Vietnam's economy and workers.

Newton explained that the TTP will create a "global investor state" that will cover 40% of the global economy. She said that 600 corporations are involved in TPP, including the giants Citigroup, General Electric, Wal-Mart, Halliburton, and Newscorp (owners of Fox News), while governments and the public are barred. Newton said the AFL-CIO has opposed TPP because it fails to include International Labor Organization labor standards and can over-ride laws in member countries. The TPP seeks cheap labor and weakened environmental laws as a way to maximize corporate profits. Vietnam is aware of these dangers, but has joined because it needs foreign capital and expertise. But Vietnam also pledges to defend its workers and society from any threats.

Hollis Stewart said Vietnam has industrialized very quickly and has a vibrant mixed economy with a strong socialist public sector, and a strong private sector. But, he said, some local Vietnamese industries may be threatened by TPP. He said Vietnam's unions are active in many social issues, including the ecology movement, which is "very big in Vietnam because its long low-lying coastline is threatened by rising seas."

Leanna Noble, retired International Representative from the United Electrical Workers union (UE) in Los Angeles and now with the LA Garment Workers Center, and Hollis Stewart, a former executive board member of SEIU Local 790 (now United Healthcare Workers) in the San Francisco Bay area gave reports on their recent 6 month teaching assignment in labor at Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Minh City. They taught collective bargaining and organizing skills.[10]

2018 elections

The headline in the online site Here and Now read: “California Democrats hope Asian-American voters can help flip red districts.”

Alvina Yeh agrees, from labor’s point of view, but adds the Dems – and the GOP – don’t know how and don’t want to reach those voters. She says labor is stepping into the void. In her organization’s case, that’s in five key swing states: California, Minnesota, Nevada, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

And Asian-Americans can make an electoral difference, says Yeh, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA). Indeed, two years ago in Nevada, the winner of a tight U.S. Senate race there, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, said “APALA and Asian-American media were critical” for her win.

So APALA, the AFL-CIO’s constituency group for Asian-born and Asian-American workers, is stepping up, she said in a telephone interview. A new report says that, on issues, it’s got a lot to work with.

The report says Asian-Americans are concerned – and agree with organized labor – on core labor issues. And majorities of Asian-Americans distrust the GOP and can’t stand anti-immigrant GOP President Donald Trump.

The Asian-Americans support better working conditions (90 percent support), freedom from harassment and exploitation on the job (88 percent), high-enough wages to let them support their families, access to affordable and quality health care (86 percent each) and retirement with dignity (84 percent). Those percentages cover potential voters who call those issues “important” or “very important” this fall.

They view the Democratic Party favorably by a 58 to 28 percent margin, it says. The GOP loses, 34 to 52 percent. House and Senate Democratic candidates, by name, roll up similar margins among Asian-Americans.

Trump does even worse: 36 percent approval-58 percent disapproval. Only Vietnamese (64-32) like him. Japanese and Japanese-Americans don’t: 14 percent for, 72 percent against. They, with a sense of history, remember being interned, or their parents and grandparents being interned, in government camps, during World War II.

The survey, for five weeks through Oct. 4, was of 1,316 Asian-American registered voters and had a sampling error of plus or minus four percent.

But while Asian-Americans share the attitudes and priorities of the rest of the country about “traditional bread-and-butter issues,” along with opposition to the GOP and Trump, Yeh says they don’t realize the labor movement does, too.

“Only four percent of Asian-Americans are very familiar with unions’ role” in campaigning for those issues, and “another 28 percent are somewhat familiar.”

That leaves an opening for APALA “to educate the community more broadly. There’s space in general” for APALA “outside the political parties,” Yeh explains. “The parties are taking Asian-Americans for granted. They don’t want to spend the time or the money talking with Asian-Americans.”

So APALA is building on its prior “strong election operations,” despite its relatively small size, to expand both Asian-Americans’ political clout and its own reach. It’s got a growing universe, to work with.

Census figures show Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing U.S. minority. As of last year, there were 21.4 million Asian-Americans and 1.5 million Pacific Islanders in the U.S., or more than seven percent of the entire population.

And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that last year 763,000 Asian-Americans were unionists (8.9 percent), and unions represented another 80,000.

In California, one of APALA’s five target states, the group has just plain sheer numbers to work with: One of every seven residents of the Los Angeles metro area, almost one of four in San Francisco-Oakland, 31 percent in San Jose and 12 percent in Sacramento, for starters.

But right now, “Nevada is our biggest program,” Yeh says, with 30,000 door-to-door house visits and more than 80,000 phone calls already concentrating on the election. Most of them, as might be expected, are in Clark County (Las Vegas) and its Washoe County suburbs.

The object is to elect a new pro-worker Democratic governor and legislature and to oust GOP Right Wing Sen. Dean Heller in favor of pro-worker Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen.

Pennsylvania APALA reps work in coordination with three community groups, both on campaigns and on longer-term issues affecting Asian-Americans. In Minnesota, APALA hooked up with the Asian-American Organizing Project serving the Hmong. In northern Virginia, they’re hitting the hustings to oust pro-Trump anti-immigrant GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock in a district with a rapidly growing Asian-American population.

But Philly and the Twin Cities may be future models for APALA action, Yeh adds. Right now, APALA members concentrate on voter outreach, but they don’t intend to let up after Nov. 6. But it won’t stop there, and it won’t stop after the election, she adds.

“From what we’ve heard, after two years of anti-immigrant, anti-worker attacks, our community is paying attention – and is not happy about that (barrage), either,” she says.[11]