Pomona College settled a labor practice dispute with Workers for Justice (WFJ) through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) this week, agreeing to revise its policy on student-worker communication in the dining halls. The settlement, which states that the college does not admit any guilt, resolved the two allegations of unfair labor practices remaining from the set of charges that WFJ submitted to the NLRB last year on behalf of two workers.
The settlement repeals the clauses in the Dining Services Policies on Non-employees implemented during summer 2011 pertaining to workers’ interactions with non-workers in the dining halls. Non-employees will no longer be forbidden to interrupt or visit employees while they are on duty, nor will the policy require that visits with non-employees during employee breaks take place outside the building.
The settlement also reaffirms the workers’ right to unionize and speak about unionization without fear of consequences from the administration.
Pomona Vice President and Treasurer Karen Sisson said copies of the settlement as well as the most current versions of the policy on non-employees will be posted throughout the dining hall work area for employees to read.
“We will post it where they punch in, where they change, any place that’s very public for them to see it, and bulletin boards that are even visible to students,” she said. “We want to make sure that we are not only complying with the letter but with the spirit behind it.”
The policy on non-employees came under fire at the beginning of the year, as WFJ members accused the administration of deliberately attempting to mute speech between workers and the greater community.
“This new policy never came up, it never existed before we started organizing, so I think they were trying to break up the connection between workers and students, and also to outside people,” said Christian Torres, a former dining hall worker who submitted a complaint to NLRB about the handling of his application for a promotion.
“I just want everyone hear to the story, my story,” Torres said. “I applied for a promotion, they didn’t give me a promotion, and after that, Cathy Hicks, who was a manager at the time, approached me in my work area, asked me about my situation with my promotion, and we talked about it. She said, ‘You know why they didn’t give you the promotion? Take off your union button and you will get the promotion.’”
Another dining hall worker filed a second complaint stating, among other charges, that he was fired because of his pro-union stance.
According to a summary released by Pomona in November, “the [NLRB] agent investigating the charges found no merit to the vast majority of the claims asserted by the two employees.”
Sisson said the settlement is a confirmation of preexisting attitudes and policy intentions of the college.
“We agreed to the settlement under the caveat that we did not admit any guilt,” she said. “There is no admission here that we did anything wrong.”
“There is just an affirmation of the environment that we have always striven to create,” Sisson said. “The NLRB was worried that this policy as it was written in the summer is overly broad. They wanted to make sure we affirmatively stated that workers can have these conversations, that they could talk about the union. We are on record as saying that we want a workplace that’s free of intimidation and free for workers to speak.”
“There’s nothing legally standing in the way” of unionization, Sisson said.