By 5:02 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4, over 25 5C students had picketed both entrances to Pitzer College’s McConnell Dining Hall to protest the firing of three former dining workers: Stephanie Smith, Alexis Ongpoy and Kevin Ayala.
The boycott was organized by members of student organization Claremont Student Worker Alliance (CSWA) as a part of a series of demonstrations against the Pitzer administration and Pitzer’s subcontracted dining service, Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO). The protests began at the beginning of the semester, in response to BAMCO firing three employees.
Smith, Ongpoy and Ayala, otherwise known as the PZ 3, were discharged after a union certification vote at Pitzer, where they expressed support for the UNITE HERE! Local 11 union. CSWA alleges that BAMCO directly punished the former employees for their union support through termination.
“The PZ 3 were abruptly and unexpectedly dismissed … with no warning,” members of CSWA said in a joint-statement via Instagram.
CSWA and other concerned 5C students have alleged that BAMCO broke federal labor law by firing the PZ 3. Elle Roc PO ’24 explained that students engaging in CSWA’s protests demand that Pitzer rehire the PZ 3 through Pitzer directly, instead of their subcontractor BAMCO, to protect the workers from the weaponization of unionizing against their employment.
“The most pressing thing at Pitzer right now is to end subcontracting,” Roc said. “I’m willing to fight tooth and nail with my peers [and] with the workers to do that.”
CSWA held its first boycott at McConnell on Friday, March 24, where the three former employees were in attendance. A day before the boycott was set to commence, Pitzer President Jill Klein sent an email to students addressing CSWA’s advocacy.
“Social justice and activism represent a long and cherished element of Pitzer’s culture and community — and nowhere is this more true than in the recent advocacy by … the Claremont Student Worker Alliance,” Klein said in the email. “We contacted BAMCO for information about these employees and have been informed that BAMCO has reached out to them to offer new employment options.”
CSWA member Elena Hockensmith PZ ’24 confirmed that their organization has been in frequent contact with the three workers, who say they have not received any employment offers from BAMCO or Pitzer.
Other students like CSWA member Nick Lin PZ ’24 saw the email as damage control for the administration, more so than meeting the expressed needs and demands of the students or employees.
“It’s pretty obvious that they’re trying to boycott our movement to make it look better for them,” Lin said. “In Jill’s initial email she was like, ‘we want to thank CSWA, it’s people like CSWA that make our school what it is,’ when everything they were doing functionally has been to suppress this.”
Klein has maintained that the Pitzer administration has chosen to remain neutral on unionization and has denied any involvement from Pitzer in the three workers’ discharge. She did not respond to TSL for further comment on Tuesday’s boycott at McConnell.
Students that organized and attended the McConnell boycott like CSWA member Jacob Neville PZ ’23 have not been convinced that Pitzer can be absolved of blame. Instead, he explained that the firings are symptomatic of a broader issue for Pitzer and their failure to provide living wages and benefits in the long run.
“I’ve always been very proud of [Pitzer] and proud of its core values,” Neville said. “[Pitzer’s refusal to support the workers] really shattered my idea of what it means to be a progressive institution. Even if you say you’re a progressive institution, you’re still a for-profit corporation that’s going to engage in labor exploitation.”
CSWA member Jessica Shen-Wachter SC ’24 added that their organization will remain steadfast on their demands to rehire Smith, Ongpoy and Ayala. If Pitzer fails to do so, she explained that Tuesday’s boycott will not be the last of their demonstrations.
“It’s really important that as a community we make it known that this is completely unacceptable,” Shen-Wachter said. “[BAMCO and Pitzer] cannot force workers out of the bargaining unit for being pro-union. We will continue to escalate. We are going to continue to put pressure on [Pitzer] in unexpected ways for them [and] at unexpected times.”
Jacob Neville contributed reporting to a previous TSL/Undercurrents article about the BAMCO firings, as an Undercurrents writer.
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