Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

Identification: Labor-activist organization

Date: Founded on May 1, 1992

Significance: The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was formed to address the workplace and community needs of a growing Asian and Pacific Islander population in the United States.

The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) convened for the first time on May Day, 1992, in Washington, D.C. That gathering drew five hundred Asian American and Pacific Islander labor and union activists from around the United States, including hotel and restaurant workers from Honolulu, longshore laborers from Seattle, garment factory workers from New York City, nurses from San Francisco, and supermarket workers from Los Angeles. The establishment of APALA was the culmination of several decades of Asian American labor activity.

Affiliation with the AFL-CIO

After the mid-1970’s, Asian American labor organizers in California worked to strengthen unionization efforts by holding organizational meetings in the larger Asian American communities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Neighborhood-based organizations such as the Alliance of Asian Pacific Labor (AAPL) grew out of these efforts, forging stronger ties between labor and community and uniting Asian union staff members more closely with rank-and-file labor leaders. The creation of the AAPL was a successful local movement, but it soon became clear to AAPL administrators that to organize significant numbers of Asian American workers, a national organizing effort would be needed. Led by Art Takei, the AAPL solicited organizational aid from the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFLCIO).

AAPL vice president Kent Wong attended the 1989 national AFL-CIO convention in Washington, D.C., to lobby for the establishment of a national labor organization for Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland acknowledged Wong’s lobbying attempts by noting the local accomplishments of the AAPL in California and recognizing the organizing potential of the burgeoning Asian American workforce.

Two years after that AFL-CIO national convention, Kirkland appointed a national Asian Pacific American labor committee, comprising thirtyseven Asian American labor activists. The committee spent more than a year planning the founding meeting of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, finally releasing an invitation for Asian American and Pacific Islander unionists, labor activists, and workers to bridge the gap between the national labor movement and the Asian Pacific American community.

APALA Convention


More than five hundred delegates attended the May, 1992, APALA convention to adopt a constitution and set up a governmental structure with a national headquarters inWashington, D.C., and local chapters throughout the United States. Organized in this way, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance could receive recognition and legitimacy from a national administration guided by the AFL-CIO, while still using its powerful techniques of community organizing at the local level.

During the convention, APALA organizers and delegates recognized and honored Asian Pacific American labor pioneers whose achievements they believed had melded national and local unionization efforts successfully or who had made significant contributions toward heightening the recognition of Asian American laborers. Honorees included Philip Villamin Vera Cruz of the United FarmWorkers union and Ah Quon McElrath of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

APALA conventioneers looked ahead to the organization’s role in continuing such activism and achievement. They drafted a commitment document calling for empowerment of all Asian American and Pacific Islander workers through unionization on a national level, as well as the provision of national support for local unionization efforts. APALA also promoted the formation of AFL-CIO legislation that would create jobs, ensure national health insurance, reform labor law, and channel financial resources toward education and job training for Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants. Toward that end, a revision of U.S. governmental policies toward immigration was called for. Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance’s commitment document supported immigration legislation that would promote family unification and provide improved access to health, education, and social services for immigrants. Finally, the document promoted national government action to prevent workplace discrimination against immigrant laborers and strongly supported vigorous prosecution for perpetrators of racially motivated crimes. APALA delegates passed several resolutions, which they forwarded to the AFL-CIO leadership. These documents decried the exploitative employment practices and civil rights violations alleged against several U.S. companies.

Convention delegates also participated in workshops that focused on facilitating multicultural harmony and solidarity, enhancing Asian American participation in unions, and advancing a national agenda to support broadly based civil rights legislation and improved immigration policies and procedures. Fromthese APALA workshops, two national campaigns were launched. The first involved working with the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute to recruit a new generation of Asian Pacific American organizers. The second campaign involved building a civil and immigration rights agenda for Asian Pacific American workers that was based on APALA’s commitment document and its convention resolutions.

Through the legislative statement of its goals and by lobbying for their societal implementation, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was the first Asian American labor organization to achieve both national and local success. Although by the time of the 1992 Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance convention Asian Americans had been engaged in various forms of unionization activity for more than 150 years, the establishment of APALA within the ranks of the AFL-CIO provided it with more powerful organizational techniques. APALA was able to unite Asian Pacific workers, simultaneously integrating them into the larger American labor movement.

Cynthia Gwynne Yaudes

Further Reading

Aguilar-San Juan, Karin, ed. The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990’s. Boston: South End Press, 1994. Explores the connection between race, identity, and empowerment within the workplace and the community. Covers Euro- American, African American, and Asian American cultures.

Espiritu, Yen Le. Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws, and Love. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. Examines the Asian American labor experience from a gendered perspective, asking how the oppression of Asian American workers has structured gender relationships among them.

Friday, Chris. Organizing Asian American Labor. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994. Analyzes the positive impact of Asian Pacific immigration upon the formation of West Coast and Pacific Northwest industries between 1870 and 1942.

Rosier, Sharolyn. "Solidarity Starts Cycle for APALA.” AFL-CIO News 37, no. 10 (May 11, 1992): 11. Summarizes the AFL-CIO conference report on the establishment of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.

Wong, Kent, ed. Voices for Justice: Asian Pacific American Organizers and the New Labor Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Collection of interviews with Asian Pacific American labor organizers and workers.

See also: Asian American literature; Asian immigrants; Chinese immigrants; Civil Rights movement; Issei; Japanese American Citizens League; Japanese immigrants; Pacific Islander immigrants.

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