History: Dedicated to the needs and concerns of Asian Pacific American (APA) workers the foundations for the creation of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) were laid in 1990 when a number of APA labor activists presented the AFL-CIO with a proposal to better address a continued under-representation among APA workers in the labor movement by forming a national APA labor organization. Following the lessons learned from the examples of APA labor leaders in history, they understood the necessity of forming labor alliances, and sought to get more APA workers into unions, especially, those working in historically important industries such as garment factories and restaurants.The founders recognized that, in addition to traditional issues like fair wages, health care, and dignity, APA workers faced other challenges and workplace discrimination. Despite the popularity of a ‘model minority myth’ about Asian Pacific Americans, there are many misunderstandings about the ability of many Asian Pacific Americans to achieve economic security and prosperity. While the median income of APA workers is higher than the national average, there is tremendous difference between specific ethnic groups – some experience high rates of poverty and others have incomes that are substantially loser than the national average. Other disadvantages related to immigration status, discrimination, language ability and education force many Asian Pacific Americans into low-paying and insecure jobs, often accompanied by exploitation, discrimination and harsh conditions.
In 1991, the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO formed a steering committee consisting of representatives from the three regional APA labor groups, representatives from Hawaiʻi’s AFL-CIO, and the seven founding unions. to explore the rationales and practicalities of forming a national APA labor organization.
APALA became a formal entity at the National Founding Convention in 1992 when over 500 Asian Pacific American labor activists representing major cities across the United States. APALA was envisioned as an organization that would address a number of pressing needs within the APA community by educating laborers, promoting political education and voter registration, and the training and mentoring of APA leaders within the labor movement and the greater community. In addition, it was decided that APALA would be committed to the defense and advocacy of civil and human rights of APA laborers, immigrants, and people of color, while developing ties to international labor organizations, especially those within the Asia-Pacific Rim.
With approximately 660,000 members, a national office in Washington, D.C., and 13 chapters and pre-chapters across the country, APALA remains the first and only national organization of APA union members. Since the time of this survey, APALA has grown to more than 20 chapters.
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. “About Us.” Accessed January 29, 2015. http://apalanet.org/about/.
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. ”Fact Sheet.” Accessed January 29, 2015. https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/apala/pages/123/attachments/original/1421265424/apala-general-fact-sheet.pdf?1421265424.
The bulk of the collection consists of organizational files (25.5 linear feet), which include approximately 12.0 linear feet of administrative files, and approximately 12.0 linear feet of accounting and financial files make up another. Also included are 1.0 linear feet of files related to the steering committee spanning the earliest years of APALA (1991-1993), activities of the executive board (1.5 linear feet) and membership files (1.0 linear feet).
Files related to public engagement form another significant portion of the collection. These include 2.0 linear feet of files related to the conferences (2000-2004), conventions (1999-2000), and special public meetings. Other files include documents related to specific political campaigns (1.5 linear feet), newsletters covering the years 2001-2007 (0.5 linear feet), and documents from and about APALA’s regional chapters, including the New York City chapter (1.0 linear feet).
The collection includes a significant amount of ephemera such as VHS tape recordings of events over the years (2.0 linear feet), photographs taken between 1994 and 1996 (4.0 linear feet), t-shirts (5.0 linear feet) and several placards, posters and signs (1.0 linear feet).
Other important files stored in the national offices were inaccessible at the time of this survey. These include recordings and transcripts of historic immigration hearings, public meetings about APA and Latino participation in elections, and personal testimonials from ‘rank and file’ members about hardships and challenges they experienced as Asian Pacific American workers.