Rights of Asian American Workers in the US

By George Bao

The first in a series of nationwide hearings in the United States on the rights of Asian American workers was held here Saturday.

The hearing, held by the Los Angeles chapter of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), unveiled groundbreaking testimony on shared barriers that Asian Americans face in forming trade unions.

U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu returned from Washington, D.C. Saturday to attend the hearing. She said that APALA is “on the front lines of protecting workers’ rights to organize and advocating for safe and healthy workplaces, improved benefits, and a voice at work.”

This hearing, she said, “represents a cross-section of workers across industries, across the country, who are fighting to protect the basic human right to organize.”

“APALA has built strong labor and community partnerships and continues to support workers who are building the new labor movement,” Chu added.

The hearing was held after a dispute between union workers and the state government of Wisconsin. While almost all the states in the United States face budget deficit and need to cut benefits, some have criticized that the unions have asked for too much benefits for the taxpayers to afford.

Asked whether the influence of trade unions has been affected by the dispute in Wisconsin and other states, Chu told Xinhua it is true that there is an anti-union sentiment in the country, she thinks the workers’ rights should be protected even when the government faces financial difficulties.

As the first Chinese American congresswoman, Chu stressed the importance to protect the rights of Asian Americans because as an ethnic group, Asian Americans are more vulnerable to discrimination and their rights as workers are less likely to be protected.

Chu also said that Asian American workers face greater difficulties in forming unions. Asian business owners usually do not wish to see unions in their companies and would try by every means to prevent workers from forming unions. Asian workers themselves would be more reluctant to join the unions.

However, the benefit is obvious when it comes to wages, health insurance and workplace retirement plans.

According to a study released in January entitled “Unions and Upward Mobility for Asian and Pacific Islander Workers” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in the United States, Asian Americans are, along with Latinos, among the fastest growing ethnic groups in the U.S. workforce.

In 2009, Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) were one of every 20 U.S. workers, up from one-in-40 only 20 years earlier. They are also the fastest growing ethnic group in organized labor, accounting for just under one-in-20 unionized workers in 2009, according to the study.

After controlling characteristics such as age, education level, industry, and state, unionized AAPI workers earn about 14.3 percent more than non-unionized AAPI workers with similar characteristics. This translates into some 2.50 dollars per hour more for unionized AAPI workers, the study says.

Unionized AAPI workers are also about 16 percent more likely to have health insurance and about 22 percent more likely to have a retirement plan than their non-union counterparts, says the study.

AAPI workers also enjoy the best union benefits among the 15 lowest-paying occupations. Low-wage workers earn about 20.1 percent more than non-union AAPI workers in these occupations. Those in unions are also about 23.2 percent more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 26.3 percent more likely to have a retirement plan through their job, the study says.

In conclusion, authors of the study say that AAPI workers who are able to bargain collectively earn more and are more likely to have benefits associated with good jobs. They strongly suggest that better protection of workers’ right to unionize would have a substantial positive impact on the pay and benefits of AAPI workers.

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