Union Contract Settled Between Pomona, Workers

After several months of negotiation, the Pomona College administration and Pomona dining hall staff reached a collective bargaining agreement Dec. 17, following the dining hall staff’s successful vote for unionization April 30. The three-year contract, which was ratified by a large majority of dining hall workers, is the first comprehensive collective bargaining agreement to cover Pomona's employees.

Frary Dining Hall chef Rolando Araiza said the negotiation process went well despite some disagreements on specific issues.

"Every time we’d have meetings, we would move forward," Araiza said. "Every time. There were a couple times where we did disagree on certain stuff, but after the college heard our views of why we wanted certain things in place or we wanted something done a certain way, they were on our side. Both parties really understood that this contract was going to allow the managers and workers to work together." 

According to the official press release from labor union UNITE HERE, the contract includes set wage increases for each year, a transition to workers’ healthcare coverage through a labor union healthcare plan, and the formation of a joint labor-management committee to maintain communication between workers and dining hall management.

One aspect of the contract that goes unmentioned in the press release is that the college has also agreed to rehire any of the 18 Pomona employees who were fired in December 2011 following an immigration documentation check if they are able to rectify their documentation status.

“We have agreed that anyone who was terminated during the 18 months prior to union recognition because they could not provide proper documents authorizing them to work in the United States will be immediately reinstated to their former position, if they can provide proper work authorization documents,” said Karen Sisson, Vice President and Treasurer at Pomona. 

Christian Torres, one of the 18 workers fired in 2011, was reinstated at Pomona last semester. 

“It’s great to have him back," Araiza said. "In the contract we did open the door for all of those people to have the opportunity to come back. But he came because the college had already promised before the contract, but that was the college keeping their promise … look what happened. It was true. They did make room for people to come back. And Christian is proof of that and hopefully in the future we can have more people come back." 

The transition to union-provided healthcare from the college-sponsored plan will be effective March 1, Sisson said. 

Araiza commented that although he believes the union healthcare plan provided by labor union UNITE HERE will be better for workers, securing better benefits was not the main goal of the union.

“I’ve said to everybody in the past, Pomona is a great place to work," Araiza said. "We already had great benefits, there were just other issues that needed to be resolved. They came to a point that we needed to have a union. So we never really pushed on a lot of benefits." 

For Araiza, there were more important aspects of the contract, namely its stipulations about improving management-employee relations.

“We have actual procedures now, real discipline procedures, and a safety clause that we didn’t have before … and that’s something we’re really proud of getting,” Araiza said.

“There’s now a six-step process until when they can terminate you and it’s really good because it allows the company to show the worker that they really are interested in making them [the workers] better," he said. "Because instead of getting a warning or your final warning on the first time they talk to you, now there’s counseling first … they have to retrain you and I think that’s better to have that window to get retrained without feeling like you’ll get in trouble." 

Although a small portion of the language of the contract has not been officially agreed upon, Sisson said that the contract will be finalized soon.

"We did actually receive the Union’s copy of what they believe to be the final and I have no reason to believe that it shouldn’t be," she said. "But now that’s in our court to review the language and to get back to them with anything that we don’t think we’d totally agreed to … I don’t expect there to be any differences but I’d expect that’s probably going to happen within the next two to three weeks." 

Araiza said that the work environment has improved since the ratification of the contract.

"They’re talking with us more now," he said. "After we signed [the contract] all this pressure was lifted on both sides. And it has changed the environment a lot. There’s a lot more openness now.”