Fil-Am labor leader honored in New York City

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Jun 04 2015 02:44 PM | Updated as of Jun 04 2015 10:44 PM

NEW YORK CITY – For her role as a driving force for immigrant worker’s rights, Filipino American union leader Maria Castaneda was honored at the 2015 New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) awards gala in New York City Tuesday night.

The NYIC is a policy and advocacy group that serves as a political vehicle for immigrant rights and empowerment.

"Everyday of my job is really fulfilling. I like working with people, I like empowering them, I like educating people. It’s not just fight, fight, fight. In fact, we are doing a more collaborative partnership that promote the well-being of our members at the same time promote quality care," Castaneda said.

Born and raised in Quezon City in the Philippines, Castaneda came to the US in 1984.

She became a volunteer organizer for the Philippine Center for Immigrant Rights organization before she was hired by the 1199 SEIU labor union as an organizer, her very first job in the US and she kept it for years.

Thirty years later, she now holds the second highest position at the largest local union in the world, representing over 400,000 workers from Massachusetts to the District of Columbia.

She has been elected the Secretary-Treasurer of 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers East twice since 2007.

"We really want to choose leaders who have made a real difference, who have had a huge impact this past year. I think Maria Castaneda really fits the bill,” NYIC Executive Director Steven Choi said.

Castaneda said immigrant rights are at the forefront of her mission.

"I just want to use my organization, my position, to inspire other Filipinos, other women, other workers to step up because we have so much to do as immigrants. We have to win immigration reform," she said.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill as well as President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, are all on hold. But Castaneda said she remains hopeful.

"Yes, it is frustrating because the DACA and DAPA are really good for the community, giving immigrants the rights to have work authorization. It’s really good for the community," she said.

Castaneda said as she accepts the recognition and plans to continue to fight for immigrant rights because she believes that it will not only help the economy, it will also raise the living standards for all working people in the US.

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