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.
Congresswoman 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:
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.