Stories from the Field: San Diego Asian Pacific Islanders Prepare to Vote No on 32

Two weeks before the November 6 election, nearly 50 Asian Pacific Islander (API) labor leaders and activists, including homecare providers represented by the United Domestic Workers (UDW), healthcare workers represented by SEIU and representatives from the local community organization Center for Policy Initiatives (CPI), gathered together at the Laborer’s union hall in San Diego.  This diverse group, with heavy representation from San Diego’s Filipino and Vietnamese communities, came together for an API Speakers Bureau Training, hosted by the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) Action, in order to prepare for the role of spokespersons for the “No on Proposition 32” campaign.

The training, which has also been held in the Oakland and Santa Ana, was a response to an urgent need to educate and mobilize API voters to oppose a deceptive proposition which threatens to silence the voices of working families across the state. The API vote will be a decisive factor in this year’s election. APIs account for 10% of registered voters in California and are more likely to identify as independent voters.

APALA and its allies are working tirelessly to make sure API voters are entering the voting booth equipped with the facts. Prohibiting direct contributions to political candidates from both unions and corporations, Proposition 32 is dressed up as balanced campaign finance reform.  However, it strategically bans the use of paycheck deductions, the chief method in which unions collect funds from its members. At the same time, Prop 32 does nothing to limit the millions in which corporations, private business groups or wealthy CEOs can funnel to Super PACs, which have little spending restrictions and transparency requirements. In addition to Super PACs, other business entities such as hedge funds and insurance companies, are also exempted from Prop 32 and would still be allowed to fund political candidates. Corporations already outspend unions 15 to 1. The true aim of Prop 32 is an even more unbalanced political playing field. One need only to look at those who are financially backing the Proposition, which happen to be the very entities exempted from Prop 32, to see who stands to gain power.

It is no doubt that the Proposition would have a devastating effect on the API community. California has a long and rich history of immigrant worker organizing and it is the heart of the API labor movement. API workers are, with Latinos, the fastest growing group in the U.S. workforce and in organized labor. Roughly 950,000 API workers are represented by unions and about 40% of API union members reside in the state of California. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), unionization results in 9 to 12 percent higher wages for API workers and a significantly greater likelihood of healthcare coverage and pension benefits. Johanna Hester, National President of APALA and Director of Organizing and Field Services for UDW:

The gains that the labor movement has made in the nation, be it pension or job security, has directly impacted our community’s socio-economic standing…Taking away the Union’s ability to advocate for their members will directly impact our communities.

Unions have lobbied for many causes which matter greatly to the API community: immigration reform, preservation of public services and investment in California’s exceptional yet affordable education system. Like all workers in California, APIs stand to lose many of the basic rights and protections a strong labor movement has fought for: a minimum wage, workplace health and safety laws, affordable healthcare, overtime pay and much more.

If Prop 32 passes, about 2.4 million union workers and working families across California would see diminished power from their staunchest advocate, whereas corporate interests would have free rein to push through policies which concede worker and consumer protections and investment in public services for tax cuts for the rich.  

Nicanora Montenegro, President of the APALA San Diego Chapter and a UDW homecare provider:

The Asian community should really have a voice and we can have a voice through our union…Proposition 32 will silence our voices.