A group of Pomona College dining hall workers, accompanied by several students, gathered outside of Frary Dining Hall in a Workers for Justice demonstration last Friday.
After the participants gathered around the Frary fountain, workers and students alike took up signs and loudspeakers, heading toward the Frary stairs. Using both Spanish and English, the demonstrators chanted refrains, such as “What do we want? Labor peace. When do we want it? Now!”
Approximately 30 people participated in the event, which one worker characterized as “a response to the intimidation” that workers have been experiencing in the workplace.
The worker, who has been a staff member at Pomona for the last 25 years, asked that he remain unnamed in order to emphasize that he was speaking as a part of the larger group of workers.
Pointing to an unequal and unfair distribution of hours, specifically the favoring of on-call employees over long-time employees in the allocation of work shifts, he characterized acts of intimidation as attempts to “divide and break the team.”
He went on to stress that the workers are striving for simple outcomes, such as 12 months of work and “to live with dignity and respect.”
Fellow staff member Rolando Araiza reiterated these goals.
“We don’t want to have to do this kind of thing,” Araiza said. “But we have to … [in order] to be visible.”
The demonstration came after a Workers For Justice (WFJ) panel on Monday, Sept. 13, which was organized to allow the public to hear directly from staff members about their experiences working for Pomona College.
Araiza characterized Friday’s demonstration as an “introduction following the panel to remind the community we are still in the fight … that we are together.”
Laura Krinsky PO ’11, who attended the panel, explained that she decided to attend the follow-up walkout after “hearing workers’ own stories, how unjustly they are treated, and also how important it is to them that students offer support.”
Several people present at the walkout emphasized the importance of the dining hall workers’ sense of independence.
“We don’t want to be a sticky layer between the administration and various companies,” said one attendee, who also wished to remain anonymous.
When asked if he was optimistic about attaining labor peace, Araiza said he “hoped to come to some kind of agreement that will benefit both of us.”
More than one of the participants at Friday’s event expressed a desire to get on with the process.
“We want to move forward already to the next step,” Araiza said.
As workers and students dispersed, staff member Maria Garcia signaled that the next step may be on the way.
“On Monday we are supposed to sit down with the college … and finally be able to put pressure on them,” Garcia said.
But, referencing the fact that one of the supervisors had been observing the demonstration, Garcia predicted that the participating workers would receive a letter chastising them for the event.
“[They] are going to ask us, you know, why are you doing this when you already have the meeting?” Garcia said. “But it’s important. It’s important to show that we are together … that when we meet they will have to take us seriously.”
WFJ discussed a “vote-by-mail” system for unionization with the Pomona administration on Monday, but after the meeting the two groups remained at a standstill.