So what happens when union organizing crosses the line? And by “the line” I mean the shoreline.
In 2016, Cathay Pacific Airline, a major Hong Kong based airline, told its U.S. based flight attendants, many who are Asian Americans, that it would no longer provide social security and Medicare benefits since it is not a U.S. company, and is able to get an exemption from providing the benefits to its U.S. based employees. Overnight, these flight attendants’ hard-earned retirement and health care benefits were wiped away.
That’s when union organizing crossed the Pacific Ocean.
Sara Nelson, who is the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA)-CWA, AFL-CIO, made a very moving speech on the historic importance of union organizing at the San Francisco Labor Council’s Pre-Labor Day Breakfast this year. She talked about the union’s successful organizing campaign to help Cathay Pacific’s U.S. based flight attendants fight against the unfair benefit rollback and extend solidarity and support to Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong-based flight attendants, some of whom were fired due to their participation in the recent civil rights protests in Hong Kong.
In 2017, AFA, with support from San Francisco Labor Council, San Mateo Central Labor Council, and Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, rallied the U.S. based Cathay Pacific cabin crew. As a result, 97 percent of the U.S. based Cathay Pacific flight attendants voted to join AFA. Then in August this year, 99 percent of this group of flight attendants represented by AFA voted to ratify their first contract. The contract is a three-year agreement that provides immediate pay increases, back pay, schedule flexibility and retirement security for flight attendants based at SFO, LAX and JFK.
And according to Cathay Pacific Airline’s own report in 2016, more than 85 percent of its cabin crew members are Asian and Asian Pacific Islander (AAPI). So AFA’s success has not only raised the awareness of the power of labor unions among Asian flight attendants here in the U.S., but likely among those who live overseas as well.
If successful union organizing can be the key to empowering the disenfranchised AAPI communities in the U.S. and perhaps overseas as well, then how can those communities build upon their success? Many community and political organizers have already recognized that AAPI communities can weigh in and impact political movements and policy change, but they often face the challenges of uniting communities that are diverse in their political views and range widely in their social-economical and cultural backgrounds. Continued investment in union organizing to rally the most vulnerable AAPI workers could lead to empowerment and a movement pushing for racial and wealth equality for generations to come, not just here in the United States but around the globe too.
Connie Chan has worked for more than a decade as a communications and policy advisor. In that time she has held positions with the District Attorney’s Office, Recreation and Parks and City College of San Francisco, and has served as a legislative aide to two city supervisors. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.