Celebrating Labor Heroes on AAPI Heritage Month

May is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, also knows as Asian Pacific American Month, when we celebrate the incredible history, culture, and accomplishments of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. The AAPI community has had and profound impact on the Labor Movement and the fight for justice. We’re taking a look at past labor activists and those making history today.  

Born in the Philippines, Larry Itliong was a farmworker in California. In 1956, he founded the Filipino Farm Labor Union and later organized a group of Filipinos to strike against grape growers in Delano. For eight days they faced violence and saw no progress. Itliong approached César Chávez and the two groups joined together to launch the Delano Grape Strike of 1965 that eventually led to the creation of the United Farm Workers Chávez became director and Itliong assistant director. He continued to organize with the UFW and the Filipino American Political Alliance until his passing in 1977. (via AFL-CIO)

Ai-jen Poo is a labor leader, award-winning organizer, author, and a leading voice in the women’s movement. She started organizing domestic workers in 1996 and helped found Domestic Workers United. She is the co-founder and President of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, working to bring quality work, dignity, and fairness to the growing numbers of workers who care and clean in our homes, the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has passed Domestic Worker Bills of Rights in 9 states and the city of Seattle, and brought over 2 million home care workers under minimum wage protections. She has been recognized among Fortune’s 50 World’s Greatest Leaders and Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, and a recipient of the 2014 MacArthur “Genius” Award.

Julie Su is the Deputy U.S. Secretary of Labor and award-winning litigator who has spent her life fighting for justice for exploited workers. Prior to joining the U.S. Department of Labor, Deputy Secretary Su served as the secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

Su is a nationally recognized expert on workers’ rights and civil rights who has dedicated her distinguished legal career to advancing justice on behalf of poor and disenfranchised communities and is a past recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.
As California labor commissioner from 2011 through 2018, Su enforced the state’s labor laws to ensure a fair and just workplace for both employees and employers. A report on her tenure released in May 2013 found that her leadership resulted in a renaissance in enforcement activity and record-setting results. Prior to her appointment as California labor commissioner, Deputy Secretary Su was the litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, the nation’s largest non-profit civil rights organization devoted to issues affecting the Asian American community. Su is known for pioneering a multi-strategy approach that combines successful impact litigation with multiracial organizing, community education, policy reform, coalition building and media work.

Sue Ko Lee worked in the National Dollar Store’s San Francisco factory in sweatshop conditions in the 1930s. ILGWU began organizing the Chinese Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 361, and it won a union election in 1938. The owner immediately sold the company to a new company headed by the factory manager and a former National Dollar Store employee in an attempt to set aside the contract and break the union. Lee and her fellow workers went on strike and actively organized the strike, obtaining solidarity from their white co-workers. The unified front led to a contract that improved salaries, benefits, and working conditions for the workers and helped break down racial barriers in San Francisco. Lee went on to become secretary of the union local and the San Francisco Joint Board. (via AFL-CIO)

Tita Shephard is an Admitting Representative/Shift Lead in the ER at Marin Health Medical Center and has been a powerful Teamster 856 member since 2002. Tita’s passion for workers’ rights began early in her career in the 90’s as she, and her coworkers, experienced workplace harassment and racism from supervisors and other workers. She felt a personal commitment to help her colleagues and stand up for their rights. Soon after joining Marin Health Medical Center in 1999 (known as Marin General Hospital), Tita saw many of the same of the same issues and experienced intense discrimination which she describes as, “putting a fire in me to speak up for my coworkers and for myself.”

After hearing about the Union from other departments, she decided to reach out to Teamsters 856 and began to talk to her coworkers about the power of a Union. Through her leadership and determination, workers in her department at Marin won a union and have built power to stop the discrimination and improve the lives of our members. Recently, Tita was instrumental in the winning of Hazard Pay for her department.

Noven Feria is a proud Teamsters Local 856 members and Custodial Lead Worker 2 at Mount Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD). Noven was instrumental in organizing his unit to become Teamster members back in 2014.

At the time, Noven was working a retail job in addition to his position at MDUSD, and felt his job was being disrespected and that he, and his colleagues, needed more representation. While at his retail job, he spoke with a friend who had a very noticeable hat on. The friend proudly explained that it was his union, the Teamsters, and gave him a number to contact. After connecting with Teamsters 856, Noven began to talk to his workers and organized a unit of over 400 members. Noven continues to be a leader to new, and experienced, workers at MDUSD.

“The union changed my life because it made me very proud of myself, as an employee. And not just me, my coworkers are now proud of themselves and their work. They are proud to be a custodian and food service worker because of what the Teamsters did.”

Richard Bobis is a current Teamsters Local 856 member and Senior Office Machine Technician at West Contra Costa Unified School District. Richard has been a member and leader of Local 856 since his bargaining unit became Teamsters in 2018.  He is a tremendous leader and continued champion of our Teamster members.

“The union has always been there to assist in attaining what is right and fair. It takes a load off knowing that I have a strong union by my side. If you are on the edge about considering if a union union is a good fit… I can truly vouch for the Teamsters as they have been there every step of the way, negotiating and fighting what’s best for Its members.