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During Pomona’s annual family weekend, Pomona College dining staff picketed in protest for higher wages, following two months of unsuccessful contract negotiations between the college and the dining hall staff’s union representative, Unite Here! Local 11.
Hundreds of Claremont College students, faculty, staff, families and other community members joined Pomona dining workers in pickets around campus that lasted from 6 a.m. to after 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28 and 29.
“I’m humbled,” Vincent Gamalinda, a dining hall cook, said of the picket’s turnout. “Every student that I talk to [and] even faculty are supporting us. I’m very humbled by what the response is, by the fact that they showed up and supported us because they know how much we work. They know how much we struggle.”
Over two-thirds of Pomona’s dining staff participated in the pickets, Arun Ramakrishna PZ ’22, an organizer with the union, told TSL.
With Pomona’s counter offer falling short of workers’ ask by $3.40, dining hall union members authorized a strike on Oct. 20 which materialized last weekend.
Dining services at Pomona operated at limited capacity during the strike, according to an Oct. 28 email from dining services manager Jose M. Martinez. With Frary Dining Hall closed, Pomona offered food trucks for lunch and dinner to supplement meals at Frank Dining Hall.
However, few students made use of Pomona’s available dining facilities during the strike, with members of the Claremont Student Worker Alliance (CSWA) calling for a boycott in solidarity with dining hall workers. Most opted to visit other 4C dining halls or utilize meals provided by ASPC.
Dining hall workers and CSWA also called on families to boycott meals offered through family weekend programming. Dining tables set up on Marston Quad remained mostly empty through the weekend, with few parents crossing the picket line.
Pomona provided meal refunds to families who requested them, Pomona spokesperson Mark Kendall told TSL via email. Kendall said the college was “grateful to all the family members who attended” and those “who worked for months to plan the event and then worked over the weekend to host the activities and information sessions.”
Workers, students and faculty members marched in front of Frank, Pomona’s food trucks and the family dining setup in Marston Quad. Carrying signs of support, they chanted phrases such as “‘¡Sí se puede!’ or “Yes, we can!” and “El pueblo, unido, ¡Jamás será vencido!” or “The people united will never be divided!”
Several Pomona professors spoke to those present at the picket on Friday morning, expressing solidarity with dining hall workers’ fight for higher wages.
“We talk about the narrative that Pomona likes to put out as a community,” Gilda Ochoa, professor of Chicano Latino studies said. “They say one thing but where are their actions? Where are their priorities? Buildings do not make up a community. A community focuses on the essentials of people and food… We will continue to organize and stand side by side and push this college for something better.”
Kai Chen PO ’26, a CSWA member who participated in the picket, said Friday morning that some students and workers went to the Family Weekend registration desk to talk to parents about the strike and invite them to sign a petition in support of workers.
Chen said the group also distributed a letter written by dining workers to parents that explained the workers’ decision to strike, inviting them to an event with the workers’ families on Walker Beach Saturday afternoon.
“For months, we have been trying to get the administration to listen and understand our situation,” the letter, signed by members of the negotiations committee, stated. “We have explained to them over and over how hard it is to survive and support our families in this economy. They just don’t get it. Their offer seems cut and pasted from the past, when things were not as bad.”
Throughout Family Weekend, parents’ responses to the strike were mixed. Many expressed solidarity with workers, signing the petition that CSWA circulated and boycotting the dining events. Several joined the pickets and events dining workers and CSWA organized.
However, a few families debated with picketers, while others verbalized disappointment in the disruption of their plans for the weekend, although they declined to speak on the record.
Parent Nathan Dudley P ’23 said that seeing the strike first hand helped him gain context for the workers’ struggle.
“I think if you’re going to make a point, you make the point when it’s the most vulnerable for the school,” Dudley told TSL. “If you’re at an impasse in your negotiations, then workers need to make sure that they are heard, and one of the ways to make yourself heard is to strike on parent’s weekend.”
Dudley was one of the family members who joined workers, faculty and students during lunch breaks from picketing on both days.
During the breaks, attendees enjoyed food and live music. Last Friday, ASPC provided pizza for picketers, while Saturday’s alternative Family Weekend event held for workers featured a taquería.
“It was very nice to be able to spend time with students and parents,” Alejandro Ruiz, a cook at Frary, told TSL. “It was all very beautiful.”
During Saturday’s event, Christian Torres — whose unionization efforts at Pomona began a decade ago — spoke to those in attendance. Torres was also one of 17 workers fired during a controversial documentation search instigated by Pomona in 2011.
“I congratulate all my coworkers and friends about taking this decision [to strike]. It’s not an easy decision,” Torres said.
Torres also participated in a parents weekend demonstration in 2013, fighting for Pomona’s total neutrality toward organizing efforts prior to a union election.
After Torres spoke, Noel Rodriguez PO ’10, an organizer for United Here! Local 11, told attendees that after the union acquired its first contract in 2014, four workers were able to gain proof of legal residency and come back to work at Pomona. But, Rodriguez said the ramifications from the losing workers then became a not-too-distant memory that students and workers continue to recall today.
“We’re fighting now for the contract,” Rodriguez said. “But this is the origin. This is the genesis of our fight, and the fight for immigrant rights for the rights of people who come here to live and work in dignity is critical.”
Student artists, activists and performers also expressed solidarity with workers throughout the two days.
On Oct. 28, CSWA organizer Mo Gardner PZ ’25 worked with a group of students to create an art piece on the free speech wall at Walker Beach featuring pledge cards signed by students.
“We’re making an installation to remind people to boycott, but also because we know that there are people visiting campus this weekend who may not be immediate members of the community, like parents, and we wanted to have a message showing why students themselves are supporting the cause,” Gardner said.
On Saturday evening, 5C a cappella groups Ninth Street Hooligans and The Claremont Shades, as well as the 5C improv group Without a Box, were supposed to perform during a 5 p.m. Pomona-sponsored ice cream social for families. But when members got on stage, the students announced that they were canceling their performance in support of the boycott.
Adam Osman-Krinsky PO ’25, a member of the Ninth Street Hooligans and CSWA, told TSL that all student performing groups canceled their performances beforehand, forfeiting the college’s payment. However, he said they thought it was important to voice their reasons in front of the few parents present.
“It’s moments like these on campus that I think are really important to stand up for,” Osman-Krinsky said. “And honestly, the money in our ASPC balances is nothing compared to what these workers go through. So we thought it was a good sacrifice to make.”
Instead, after the picket ended on Saturday, the a cappella groups sang for workers, a moment Shireen Aslan, a worker at Frary and part of the negotiations committee, said she would never forget.
“We’re lucky to have great and wonderful students,” Aslan told TSL. “They made us stronger with their support, to thank them is not enough … our strike will remain one of the most powerful in the history of Pomona College.”
In an email to the Pomona community on Wednesday, President G. Gabrielle Starr addressed the ongoing negotiations in her first public statement on the matter.
“Out of respect for the process, I have refrained from discussing the talks in detail while negotiations are underway,” Starr said. “However, I do want to note that both parties, the college and the union, have now agreed to return to the bargaining table, and I see that as a positive development for all.”
The next set of negotiations are set to take place Nov. 9, according to Gamalinda, who is also part of the negotiations team. He said that although the strike ended Sunday, workers might organize more demonstrations in the future depending on the results of the next meeting.
“It’s up to the community to talk about,” Gamalinda said.
In his statement to TSL, Kendall added that Pomona hopes to “have a neutral mediator present at the [Nov. 9] negotiating session to help both parties find common ground for a multi-year agreement.”
Ramakrishna told TSL on Thursday that the negotiation committee is still discussing whether to have a mediator at the meeting or not. However, he noted that a mediator would not guarantee that workers’ monetary needs would be met.
“I think people feel strong,” Ramakrishna said, reflecting on the strike. “I think people feel like they have power at work. Which is what a lot of this is about. Making sure people have dignity and respect and power at work.”
Jenna McMurtry and Siena Swift contributed reporting