Negotiations between pro-union dining hall workers and college administrators took on a new tone when the two sides met Jan. 27. Both workers and administrators came out of the meeting more hopeful than in past negotiations, while still acknowledging the work ahead of them.
Dining hall cook Rolando Araiza attended the meeting. According to Araiza, for the first time, the administration stated that, while it would prefer not to have a union, if workers want one, the college would be ready to accommodate them.
“Compared to other meetings, this meeting was actually helpful,” said Araiza, noting that he felt the administration was more attentive than in previous negotiations.
While previous meetings tried to deal with both the issue of neutrality and the voting process, this meeting focused primarily on neutrality.
According to Araiza, although the college has not issued a written agreement, the administration offered to remain neutral throughout the whole process—even after the unionization vote—though they requested a limited and specific time for campaigning. The purpose of this system would be to allow both sides to provide their perspective on unionization.
Vice President and Treasurer Karen Sisson, who also attended the meeting, said the administration would not hire an anti-union consultant group.
Both Araiza and Sisson agreed that the progress on neutrality was one of the more important accomplishments of the meeting. Both sides discussed how managers could limit their discussion of unionization in the workplace, though the details have yet to be worked out. However, the administration defended its right to conduct captive audience or informational meetings, under the condition that people other than employees be allowed to attend these meetings. Sisson proposed introducing education programs for workers to explain the benefits that Pomona staff members currently have without a union.
Sisson added that workers expressed that they felt the new dining hall management reflected a positive change for students and others but not for the dining hall staff workers.
One low point in the meeting, according to Araiza, was when Sisson made analogies between negotiating with workers and dealing with her own children.
“She kept comparing workers to her kids,” said Araiza. “Like when she has to punish them, they nag.”
Sisson acknowledged that this was a flawed comparison, and explained that her intention was to explain that while staff may not initially like the changes, those changes may be better in the long run.
“It was a poor choice of words,” she said.
According to Araiza, Sisson said she would revise and draft a new proposal for neutrality, which both sides will discuss at their next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 14.