In recent months, democracy movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya have captivated our interest. Closer to home, we’re also paying attention to Wisconsin and Ohio and other states where public employees and their unions are being scapegoated as a rationale for cuts in pay, benefits and the workforce itself. Make no mistake, this is an assault on all of us in the API community and our way of life.
Why? Our ancestors fought for the right to form unions and collectively bargain…basic rights that are included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How ironic that the world has looked to the USA as a democratic model, and now some governors and legislators are trying to repeal, rescind or greatly diminish these rights.
We or members of our families ARE public sector workers. Nearly 800,000 Asian Pacific Americans are public sector employees in government agencies throughout the country. And, two-thirds of the APA union members are immigrants. Having a good union job has been the road out of poverty and into the middle class for generations of APAs.
On March 7, 2011, the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), a coalition of 29 APA organizations, sent out a press release, “Asian Pacific American Community Stands with Workers Across the Country.” Member organizations include the Asian American Justice Center (headed by Seattleite, Karen Narasaki), Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Hmong National Development, Inc, JACL, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum Consortium, National Federation of Filipino American Associations, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, OCA, Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund, and the South Asian Americans Leading Together.
Also on March 7th, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution honoring and supporting public employees and declared March 8, 2011 as Public Employee Appreciation Day. Each Council member spoke about the value of public employees, recognizing that they may sit across the table during contract bargaining, but they are important public servants who are dedicated to keeping the city of Seattle moving. Councilmember Bruce Harrell told a personal story about how his late father, Clayton Harrell, was proud of his work as a lineman at Seattle City Light; his mother, also was a public sector employee at the Seattle Public Library.
There are many stories about the importance of union jobs in our communities. Romy Garcia, a longtime Filipino community activist, has been a public employee (WFSE/AFSCME Local 843) for over ten years. He works with struggling youth and families involved in the foster care system.
“In 2001, the Collective Bargaining law was passed in Washington State. Collective bargaining has given us, as workers, a voice over our working conditions. We sit at the table and negotiate our wages and healthcare benefits.”
Historically, relations between unions and the APA community have not always been positive. One hundred twenty-five years ago, Puget Sound area trade unions joined civic leaders to march Chinese immigrant workers down to the dock, forcing them to leave the city. Recently, UFCW 21 marched with Bettie Luke, Michael Woo and other community leaders to commemorate that dark period of Seattle history. And as we approach the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, we also realize that their union, ILWU Local 37, was formed because Filipinos were not allowed in the Seattle ILWU. Today, APA men and women work throughout the labor movement here and across the country.
So, pushing beyond the racism of the past, and moving forward to leadership today and in the future, we ARE public and private sector union workers. Unions helped move our families out of poverty, and continue to bring new generations of immigrants forward in our society.
We have a huge fight on our hands to save the middle class and unions are the forefront of that struggle. Join us! On March 17, the American Federation of Teachers – Washington and other unions and community allies will rally in Olympia at noon to call for closing tax loopholes and making sure that cuts don’t disproportionately fall upon immigrants and workers of color.