Pro-union food service workers asked for formal talks between Pomona College staff and administration Wednesday night, a day after the college’s first public discussion on a union vote.
The statement, signed by a group that named itself the Independent Labor Organization of Pomona College Dining Hall Workers, said the employees were “ready and willing to meet with the Pomona College administration…to discuss how [they] can reach a labor peace agreement favorable to all parties.”
Their statement was released on the website of Workers for Justice, the group currently pushing for a unionization vote, and followed a Pomona Student Union panel discussion that marked the first time administration and pro-union staff members talked together in a public setting.
The panel included Maria Garcia, a dining hall staff member from the Workers for Justice leadership, Karen Sisson, treasurer and Vice President of the College, as well as Assistant Professor of Economics Fernando Lozano, Professor of Religious Studies Jerry Irish, and Associate Professor of Politics Heather Williams.
About 175 students, faculty and workers attended the panel discussion. Many of the workers held signs addressed to President David Oxtoby and wore orange armbands to symbolize their support for a petition submitted last month asking for a vote on unionization.
Sisson, speaking on behalf of the college, explained the school’s official position on the workers’ unionization attempt.
“First, we have no objection to a union,” Sisson said. “If the workers decide to organize and form a union, we have no problem with that.”
Sisson said the administration’s opposition to the proposed card-check method stems from what they perceive as the lack of anonymity involved in the process.
She added the administration opposed signing a neutrality agreement because it prohibited open discussion.
“We do not support a neutrality agreement, which would required the administration to remain silent,” she said. “No dialogue can take place when only one voice is being heard.”
Sisson said the administration still supports a method operated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which she insists ensures anonymity in the voting process. She added President Oxtoby has officially announced his commitment to a quick process if the workers choose to use the NLRB method.
Garcia responded to Sisson’s statement by reinforcing the workers’ commitment to card-check.
“First of all, the reason that we want card-check and that it benefits us is because it guarantees that the administration is not going to attempt to intimidate us or have meetings with us to try to sway us to not vote for the union,” Garcia said through a translator. “NLRB benefits only the employer, it does not benefit the employees at all.”
Garcia also noted that the card-check method assures that the school will not delay the process.
“The NLRB is just promises, that’s how [the administration] has been dealing with us for ten years: promises and words that don’t mean anything,” she said. “[The card check method] gives us the power that they have, and I’m pretty sure that’s why they don’t want it. That’s why we want the card-check: we want to make that decision, not have them make it for us.”
Although the workers are still adamant about using the card-check method, Garcia said they are willing to meet with the administration to have an open dialogue and try to reach a compromise.
“They were willing to hear us [on Wednesday] and we’re willing to hear them,” she said. “[Sisson] said she wanted to speak with us and figure out what the problem was…and we’re willing to sit down and talk to them. We’re not going to change our minds; we want the card-check. But we are willing to…try to see how we can get to an agreement that can be peaceful for both sides.”
Sam Gordon PO’11, a spokesman for Students in Solidarity with Workers for Justice, said the student group supports whatever method the workers choose.
“The goal of the student group is simply to make as many opportunities for [the workers] to speak,” Gordon said. “The statement that the workers released outlines their position. The workers are willing to sit down with the administration; they expressed that in their letter.”
According to Sisson, though the administration will still only support a method that ensures anonymity, they are strongly in favor of the proposed discussions between the two groups. She added that it is important that the workers give this administration a chance to prove that they do want to reach an agreement that works for both sides.
“I can understand if someone has been working in an environment for ten years and you don’t feel change come or don’t feel heard, you would look at us and say that these are just new faces but the same old thing,” she said. “But you do have to give us a chance…to prove that we can solve your problems, and then if we don’t, hold us accountable.”