Largest national AAPI workers’ organization elects diverse leadership, sets bold vision for organization

15th Biennial Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO (APALA) concludes with commitment to AAPI community and worker rights

LAS VEGAS — The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO (APALA) concluded its 15th biennial convention in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 11, 2019. As members of the largest national organization for AAPI workers, close to 500 attendees shared their vision, debated, and voted to determine the priorities and course of action APALA will take on to improve the lives of AAPI workers and working families in our communities over the next two years and beyond.

Convention delegates elected a diverse group of AAPI workers and labor leaders to lead the organization through 2021. Monica Thammarath from the National Education Association was re-elected APALA National Executive Board as National President. The other officers elected were Kim Geron from the California Faculty Association (CFA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as 1st Vice President, Michael Yee from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3 as 2nd Vice President, Jillian Matundan from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) as Treasurer, and Tracy Lai from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 1789 as Secretary. Jigme Ugen from SEIU is the first Tibetan refugee elected to the board. 

APALA delegates voted to pass 22 historic resolutions to advocate and support bold progressive policies and programs, such as: 

• A Green New Deal, which would prioritize high quality health care, affordable and safe housing, economic security, and access to clean water and air for working people

• Medicare for All to improve health care access and affordability for all people, regardless of immigration status

• Protecting sexual and reproductive health care as it comes under attack by the administration

• Strengthening program and outreach to ensure AAPI communities get counted in the 2020 census 

• Continued dedication to international solidarity with workers in Asian countries who are fighting labor and human rights violations

• Commitment to building power and community with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders to protect Mauna Kea in opposition to the construction of a telescope that would desecrate sacred cultural lands in Hawaii

• Strengthening the leadership pipeline and cultivating young, diverse workers into the labor movement

•Ensure all APALA spaces and chapters are safe spaces, free from discrimination and harassment

This year’s convention saw the largest number of monolingual workers join in workshops, caucuses, plenaries, and in crafting resolutions signaling the growth of organizing efforts in newer immigrant communities. Attendees voted on a resolution to work towards language justice for APALA members through offering robust interpretation and translations.

International guests from Japan, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Hong Kong attended to build international solidarity. Inspired by APALA’s Convention, the Japanese delegation is working with APALA to plan the first APALA delegation to Okinawa and Japan in October. 

Convention highlights included keynote speeches from Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, SEIU Local 1107 Executive Director Grace Vergara, Assemblyman for Nevada’s 6th District William McCurdy II, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, Congresswoman Dina Titus for Nevada’s 1st District, AFA-CWA International President Sara Nelson, Political Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and Executive Director of Care in Action Jess Morales Rocketto. 

APALA also launched the Tam Tran Freedom Fighter award at this year’s Convention, given to an APALA member who is leading efforts to build bridges between the labor movement and other movements for social justice. Tam Tran was a pioneering undocumented activist in the immigrant youth movement. The 2019 Tam Tran Freedom Fighter award was given to Gregory Cendana, President and Co-Founder of Can’t Stop! Won’t Stop! Consulting, APALA DC Chapter member, and former APALA Executive Director.  

In line with APALA’s tradition of taking action at convention, over 300 convention attendees showed up with the Culinary Workers Union to picket Palms Casino Resort in solidarity with the workers who are fighting to win their first contract but Palms is refusing to negotiate with them. 

“On the heels of our largest field program yet in Nevada and just six months out from the Nevada caucus, it has been grounding to host our Convention here, where AAPIs are increasingly becoming a powerful force in the electorate, in organized labor, and in the economy,” said Monica Thammarath, APALA National President and NEA appointee. “With the passage of 22 progressive resolutions, we are asserting AAPI workers’ commitment to advancing the labor movement toward a future that is more inclusive of immigrants, women, LGBTQ folks, poor and working class people, and young workers. It is a pivotal moment for us to collectively build a progressive AAPI agenda where all of our communities are reflected and our Convention was a powerful one step toward that.” 

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