Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Is Established

The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, a labor-activist organization, was formed to address the needs of a growing Asian and Pacific Islander community in the United States.

Summary of Event

On May 1, 1992, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) held its founding convention in Washington, D.C. The gathering drew five hundred Asian American and Pacific Islander unionists and laborers from around the United States, including garment factory workers from New York City, hotel and restaurant workers from Honolulu, longshoremen from Seattle, nurses from San Francisco, and supermarket workers from Los Angeles. The establishment of APALA was the culmination of several decades of Asian American unionization activity. Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
Labor organizations
Asian Americans;organizations
[kw]Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Is Established (May 1, 1992)
[kw]Labor Alliance Is Established, Asian Pacific American (May 1, 1992)
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
Labor organizations
Asian Americans;organizations
[g]North America;May 1, 1992: Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Is Established[08360]
[g]United States;May 1, 1992: Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Is Established[08360]
[c]Organizations and institutions;May 1, 1992: Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Is Established[08360]
[c]Business and labor;May 1, 1992: Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Is Established[08360]
Takei, Art
Wong, Kent
Kirkland, Joseph Lane
Mazur, Jay
Vera Cruz, PhilipVillamin
McElrath, Ah Quon

Since the mid-1970’s, Asian American labor activists in California had worked to strengthen unionization attempts by holding organizational meetings in the large Asian American communities within San Francisco and Los Angeles. Through the efforts of such neighborhood-based organizations as the Alliance of Asian Pacific Labor Alliance of Asian Pacific Labor (AAPL), stronger ties between labor and the community were forged, and Asian union staff members were united more closely with rank-and-file labor leaders. Those localized efforts of the AAPL, however, failed to organize significant numbers of Asian American workers. In order to begin unionizing on the national level, AAPL administrators, led by Art Takei, solicited organizational aid from the AFL-CIO, AFL-CIO[Aflcio] a key U.S. labor collective.

At the invitation of the AFL-CIO executive board, 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 Island descent. In addressing Wong’s request, AFL-CIO president Joseph Lane Kirkland acknowledged the local accomplishments of the AAPL in California and recognized the organizing potential of the growing Asian American workforce. In 1991, Kirkland appointed the national Asian Pacific American Labor Committee, which was headed by Jay Mazur. This group of thirty-seven Asian and American labor activists met for more than a year to create the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.

In planning for the 1992 convention, the committee put out a nationwide invitation for Asian American and Pacific Islander unionists, labor activists, and workers to gather in Washington, D.C., to take on the responsibility for bridging the gap between the national labor movement and the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. The response exceeded the committee’s expectations. At the May 1, 1992, convention, more than five hundred delegates participated in adopting a constitution for APALA and in setting up a governmental structure for the organization, with a national headquarters in Washington, D.C., and local chapters throughout the United States. Organized in this manner, APALA could receive recognition and control from a national administration guided by the AFL-CIO while still using its powerful techniques of community organization at the local level.

During the convention, APALA organizers and delegates also recognized and honored Asian Pacific American labor pioneers whose achievements had melded national and local unionization efforts successfully. Among these was Philip Villamin Vera Cruz, the eighty-seven-year-old former vice president of the United Farm Workers United Farm Workers of America. Vera Cruz, a Filipino American, had worked since the 1930’s to create local unions for farmworkers in the southwestern United States and continuously lobbied for national support of farmworkers’ unionization. Other honorees included those who had made significant contributions toward heightening the recognition of Asian American laborers, such as Ah Quon McElrath of the Hawaiian Longshore Workers Union. As a result of McElrath’s efforts throughout the 1950’s, sugar and pineapple plantation workers in Hawaii achieved greater workplace and community status.

In addition to recognizing the history of Asian American labor activism and honoring the achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the newly created APALA looked ahead toward its role in continuing activism and achievement. The organization drafted a document titled “Commitment to Organizing, to Civil Rights, and to Economic Justice,” which called for empowerment of all Asian and Pacific American workers through unionization on a national level; it also called for the provision of national support for individual, 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 Island immigrants. Toward that end, the organization called for a revision of U.S. government policies toward immigration. APALA’s commitment document supported immigration legislation that would promote family unification and provide improved access to health, education, and social services for immigrants. The document also stated APALA’s support for national government action to prevent workplace discrimination against immigrant laborers and vigorous prosecution for perpetrators of racially motivated crimes.

To solidify their commitment, delegates at the founding convention of APALA passed several resolutions that they then forwarded to the AFL-CIO leadership. These decried the exploitative employment practices and civil rights violations alleged against several specific U.S. companies. Convention delegates also participated in workshops that focused on APALA members’ individual roles in facilitating multicultural harmony and solidarity, enhancing Asian American participation in unions, and advancing a national agenda to support more broadly based civil rights legislation and improved immigration policies and procedures.

From the workshops held at the first APALA convention, 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 at both national and local levels. The second campaign involved building a civil and immigration rights agenda for Asian Pacific American workers based on APALA’s commitment document and convention resolutions.


Through the legislative statement of its goals and in lobbying for the substantive societal implementation of those goals, 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 APALA convention Asian Americans had been engaged in various forms of unionization activity for more than 150 years, establishment of APALA within the ranks of the AFL-CIO provided Asian American and Pacific Islander workers with more powerful organizational techniques. APALA was able to unite Asian Pacific workers solidly while simultaneously integrating them into the larger U.S. labor movement. Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
Labor organizations
Asian Americans;organizations

Further Reading

  • Aguilar-San Juan, Karin, ed. The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990’s. Boston: South End Press, 1994. Collection of essays explores the connections among race, identity, and empowerment within the workplace and the community. Compares European American, African American, and Asian American cultures. Includes bibliographic references and index.
  • Chang, Edward, and Eui-Young Yu, eds. Multiethnic Coalition Building in Los Angeles. Los Angeles: California State University Press, 1995. Papers from a two-day symposium suggest ways to build multicultural harmony within the community and the workplace. Contributors discuss labor union organization among African Americans, Chicanos, and Asian Americans in California. Includes bibliographic references.
  • Friday, Chris. Organizing Asian American Labor: The Pacific Coast Canned-Salmon Industry, 1870-1942. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994. Analyzes the positive impact of Asian Pacific immigration on the formation of industries on the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest in the period discussed. Includes maps, bibliographic references, and index.
  • Omatsu, Glenn, and Edna Bonacich. “Asian Pacific American Workers: Contemporary Issues in the Labor Movement.” Amerasia Journal 8, no. 1 (1992). Discusses the advance in status achieved by Asian American workers in the late twentieth century and summarizes the remaining political, economic, and social issues impeding their progress.
  • Rosier, Sharolyn. “Solidarity Starts Cycle for APALA.” AFL-CIO News 37 (May 11, 1992): 11. Summarizes the AFL-CIO conference report on the establishment of APALA.
  • Wong, Kent. “Building Unions in Asian Pacific Communities.” Amerasia Journal 18, no. 3 (1992): 149-154. Assesses the difficulties of Asian American unionization and gives suggestions for overcoming those problems.

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