Calling Pitzer to hire three former subcontracted dining workers, CSWA increases student activism

Stephanie Smith spoke at a rally Thursday in front of Pitzer’s McConnell dining hall. (Courtesy: Mariana Duran)

This week, members of the Claremont Student Worker Alliance (CSWA) escalated actions at Pitzer College in support of three former subcontracted dining workers who allege they were terminated from their positions in retaliation for expressing union support. 

CSWA has organized a student-led campaign to demand that Pitzer hire Stephanie Smith, Alexis Ongpoy and Kevin Ayala, so they can return to work on campus. The three were laid off by Pitzer’s subcontracted dining service, Bon Appetit Management Company (BAMCO), last December. 

As part of their campaign, CSWA is circulating a petition that, according to CSWA member Cameron Quijada SC ’25, already has over 1,000 signatures. The petition’s Friday deadline has led to demonstrations throughout the past week.

In support of the three workers, leaders from CSWA organized delegations to various Pitzer officials Monday and Tuesday, had a rally Thursday and will hold a Friday boycott of Pitzer dining facilities. 

Quijada explained that if the school doesn’t respond to the petition’s demands after the weekend, CSWA will consider engaging in more severe efforts in the coming weeks. However, she is optimistic that the Pitzer administration will respond to this week’s student demonstrations. 

“I think that we have the chance right now, because this movement is so strong, to set a new precedent for Pitzer and to show that this isn’t okay,” she said. “I think that as students, we have power to hold these schools accountable, and I think this fight is a lot bigger than just the petition.”

Over 100 5C students and a few faculty members attended yesterday’s rally at the Pitzer Apron, a precursor to the Friday boycott and picket. During the rally, two of the three fired workers, Stephanie Smith and Kevin Ayala, spoke about negative experiences with dining management that began when they expressed support for Pitzer’s union.

“‘[BAMCO managers] promised us two days’ pay for Christmas and New Year’s Eve,” Smith said at the rally. “We didn’t get that. All I got in the mail was a letter that said my position was no longer required … They don’t like me because I’m aggressive. But I’m real, I’m honest, I do my job. I can’t think of anybody on this campus that I ever saw up in here that said I had a bad attitude.”

Joining Smith and Ayala at the Apron stage, members of Pomona College’s dining hall team encouraged students and the two workers to stay resilient. They spoke about 17 undocumented dining workers who were fired from the school during Pomona’s union drive in 2011, and added that many were eventually rehired following worker organizing. 

Student organizers and leaders also spoke to the crowd. Pitzer Student Body Vice President Quin Mumford PZ ’24 claimed that after a delegation to the Pitzer College Board of Trustees, he was admonished by a dean for swearing and being disrespectful.

 “Respect does not come when unjustly firing three members of our community,” Mumford said to the crowd. “I think it is completely f–ing warranted to be angry.”

In recent weeks, members of Pitzer’s administration have expressed disapproval over student demonstration methods.

“We value the role civil disobedience has played both on our campus and across the country,” Klein said in a Thursday email to the community. “At the same time we must assure that our community is safe for all and that our campus can continue to operate fully.”

This Monday and Tuesday, CSWA delegations of over 20 students marched to different administrative offices to share copies of the petition letter with BAMCO managers and higher-level members of Pitzer administration.

Students were met with varying degrees of receptivity. On Monday, HR Director Marie Pinedo directed students into the McConnell Founders Room, where she listened to and took notes on their remarks. Vice president for strategic initiatives and community relations Jim Marchant, who was in a Zoom meeting at the time of the Monday delegation, forcefully shut his door after students insisted on handing him a copy of the petition. 

“I respect the rights of students to organize and demonstrate peacefully about issues that are important to them,” Marchant told TSL via email. “Of late, I am concerned of the effect of escalating disruption on offices and staff across campus that have raised issues about not being able to perform their jobs due to disruption.”

Meanwhile, some students, like Chiara de Georgio PZ ’26 expressed dissatisfaction over the kinds of responses their delegations have gotten from the administration over the past months.

“We’ve done so many of these delegations for these three workers and see no action whatsoever,” de Georgio said. “And the best we’ve gotten is someone sitting there with a notepad pretending to take notes … The worst we’ve gotten is being kicked out of rooms, yelled at [and] told to shut up [and] stop talking.”

Dining managers and President Klein avoided interacting with the students on Tuesday, Claremont Undercurrents reported. Klein did not directly respond to TSL’s requests for comment on the delegation to her office, but clarified some of Pitzer’s hiring practices in her Thursday email to the community. 

Klein also said in her email that “social justice and activism represent a long and cherished element of Pitzer’s culture and community.”

To CSWA organizer Francisco Villaseñor PO ’25, the school’s response to recent student organizing reflects a larger issue with consistency between the school’s professed values and its actions.

“One thing that becomes really clear is that [administrators] are only in favor of advocacy when it lines up with the way that they want to see advocacy happening,” he told students during the rally. 

Villaseñor encouraged students to continue organizing in support of the fired workers. 

“It’s not a one-time action. It’s not easy. And again, the college is hoping that we get tired, hoping that we say, ‘I have other stuff to worry about and that we forget about this fight,’” Villaseñor said. “But organizing is everyday actions that we take, showing up for one another, showing up at something that’s solidarity for each other and having solidarity for the folks that make this place run.”

Ayala said this support from students, faculty and staff has kept him motivated in the three months that have passed since he was fired. 

“Back in December, I decided to vote for the union,” Ayala said at the rally. “Shortly after, everything started to go downhill, honestly. But the support that everyone has shown has made up for it. To be honest, it’s unimaginable. I just want to say thank you.” 

Averi Sullivan PO ’23 and Reia Li PO ’24 contributed reporting.

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