APALA E-Newsletter
The APA Voice of Labor December 2009
In This Issue
White House Names Head of AAPI Commission
APA Workers Speak Out at 1st National APA Workers' Rights Hearing
APAs Represent Fastest Growing Segment of Union Members
White House Names Head of AAPI Commission


APALA congratulates Kiran Ahuja, a leading feminist and Asian American civil rights activist, who was recently named to head the newly re-established White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Ahuja was founding executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum from 2003-2008. The organization is the first national feminist organization for Asian Pacific American women.

Growing up in Savannah, Ga., Ahuja attended Spelman College in Atlanta, where she gained a keen recognition of race. Ahuja attended law school at the University of Georgia and was selected one of five trial attorneys in an honors program in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where she litigated education-related discrimination cases.
The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will be housed within the Department of Education, where Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke will co-chair the commission.
Immigration Bill To Be Introduced

Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois recently held a call on the immigration reform bill with advocates for family reunification indicating that the House version of the bill will be introduced as early as this month.

For families seeking to be reunited with their loved ones, the legislation is overdue. Gutierrez's version proposes a pathway to citizenship, an end to workplace raids, and a focus on reuniting families.
Graduate Employees at University of Illinois Win Contract, End Strike
UIUC Grad Employee Raally
In a win for professional employees seeking union representation, the graduate employees union at University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign voted to ratify a new contract in a difficult budget session after the first strike at UIUC in over a decade. The GEO received support from unions including AFT.

With over 1000 GEO members participating in the strike, member solidarity helped to win gains in four priority areas. GEO secured  tuition waivers through the strike, an additional two weeks of unpaid parental leave, increases to the University's contribution to health care premiums (reaching 75% in the third and final year of the contract), and raises on the minimum salary, totaling ten percent over three years.

The GEO also succeeded in removing several regressive proposals from the new contract, including furloughs, "in-kind" payment, a recision of grievances related to discrimination, and a "scope of the agreement" clause that would have prevented the GEO from re-opening bargaining in the event of a change to employment conditions for graduate employees at UIUC. The tentative contract which was agreedupon by the GEO and the UIUC Board of Trustees now goes to the Board for their signature.

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APA Workers rights hearing workers APALA Members and Allies,
Every Thanksgiving, families across this nation take time to express gratitude and to renew their bonds.  This time is no different for us as APALA because together we broke new ground this past month.
Specifically, Asian American and Pacific Islander workers and allies gathered from coast to coast for the historic first National Asian Pacific American Workers' Rights Hearing.  APALA and the AFL-CIO, in partnership with over 20 national and local organizations, packed the Samuel Gompers Room with the largest number of Asian American and Pacific Islanders to ever enter the AFL-CIO Headquarters - a visual testament that a new room has been built within the House of Labor.
We are being heard because of all your efforts and support.  Quantifying this development, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) recently released a groundbreaking report concluding that Asian American and Pacific Islanders, along with Latinos, represent one of the fastest growing segments of unionized workers.  Among the findings in "Unions and Upward Mobility for Asian Pacific Americans," CEPR reports that Asian American and Pacific Islander union workers earn more and are more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and pensions than their non-union counterparts.
We are uniting as the fastest growing segment of unionized workers.  However, millions more continue to be denied a voice and dignity in the workplace.  As we express our collective gratitude for your invaluable contributions, we also seek to renew our bonds together as APALA and to challenge ourselves to continue to fight for worker, immigrant and civil rights.
John Delloro
APALA President
NicanoraAsian Pacific American Workers Speak Out at 1st National APA Workers' Rights Hearing
On November 13th, APALA hosted the First National Asian Pacific American Workers' Rights Hearing along with 20 national APA organizations and the new leadership of the AFL-CIO. A standing room only crowd of over 200 people listened to workers share both heartbreaking and uplifting stories of employer abuse and worker solidarity, and testify on the importance of the right to organize. The historic event marked the first hearing focused on Asian Pacific American workers, and also celebrated their strength and courage. 

The group of workers who testified included a diverse diaspora of Asian American immigrants who came from all walks of life -- a card dealer, an engineer, a former doctor-turned-teacher, and a factory worker. Enthusiasm and support for the workers were evident in the room as rank and file workers came from all over the United States just for the event, including a special contingent from the APALA New York chapter. 

Nicanora Montenegro, a homecare worker with UDW/AFSCME,
testified, "As home care providers, we face the challenges of isolation every day. We work alone and do not have opportunities to support each other. But with a union, we are able to bargain for better wages and health benefits. I can't imagine providers in California or anywhere else in this country not having a union to protect them."

She memorably closed her testimony singing, "Once I was lost, but now I am found." The lively crowd cheered and applauded her courage and conviction.

Some of the particularly moving testimonies included a worker who previously worked in slave- like conditions at Signal International on a H2-B visa. He spoke ardently about how recruiters lied to them, and that once they were there, Signal forced them to live in substandard housing with 24 men crammed into a small room, charging each man a $1,000 a month on top of the $20,000 that Signal charged to bring them to the US. He also described  the U.S. Department of Justice's surveillance of the workers' march to Washington D.C for freedom and truth.

Rep. Judy ChuCongresswoman Judy Chu, a strong labor ally, renewed the call for the Employee Free Choice Act. She listened intently to the workers' stories and declared, "We need this bill passed, now more than ever. Workers aren't getting the respect and dignity they deserve and they need the strong voice on the job that unions provide."

Panelists Included:
APA Workers panel
Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-32)
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler
Mary Beth Maxwell, U.S. Department of Labor
John Delloro, President, APALA
Sarita Gupta, Executive Director, Jobs with Justice
Kent Wong, Director, UCLA Labor Center
Larry Shinagawa, Director, University of Maryland - Asian American Studies Department
Greg Cendana, President, United States Student Association

The event was highly successful, including coverage by AFSCME. UCLA's Labor Studies Center and University of Maryland's Asian American Studies Department will analyze the testimony and release a report documenting their struggles and achievements similar to the groundbreaking report fronm 2002 on the state of Asian Pacific American workers in California. APALA thanks the workers, audience members, and panelists for helping to make the hearing a meaningful and successful event.

Photos of hearing by Jon Melegrito: Top right in president's letter: workers; upper left: Nicanora Montenegro; right: panelists.
female factory workerAPAs Represent Fastest Growing Segment of Union Members

A new report by the Center on Economic and Policy Research finds that for the increasing numbers of Asian Pacific Americans who join unions, there are decided advantages. 

About 12.5 percent of Asian Pacific American workers were in a union or represented by a union at their workplace, a rate double that of 20 years ago.
The report finds that unionization raises the pay of APA workers by about $2.00 per hour, with even more significant gains amongst APA workers in low wage industries. APA workers are 19 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 25 percentage points more likely to have an employer-provided pension plan than their non-union counterparts.

Nicole Woo, Director of Domestic Policy at CEPR and an author of the report, stated "While this is reflective of workforce trends in general, the data show that joining a union makes a big difference in the wages and benefits of APA workers."