Between 500 and 1,000 attendees are expected at what is likely to be the largest rally in support of Pomona dining hall workers’ attempt to unionize, union organizer Noel Rodriguez PO ’89 said. The rally, which will take place on Cesar Chavez Day, March 30, is a joint effort between the pro-union group Workers for Justice (WFJ) and other organizations including the hospitality and food service union UNITE-HERE Local 11.
College Avenue between Fourth Street and Sixth Street will be cordoned off for the demonstration.
Rodriguez described the event as a “dining hall in the streets,” complete with food for over 700 people provided by a local food workers and grocers union, bands and a variety of speakers.
The two headlining speakers will be Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA) and Maria Elena Durazo, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Workers, college students and high school students fasting for immigrant rights will also speak.
Rodriguez said that the main purpose of the rally is to protest what pro-union groups see as the interference of Pomona College in the dining hall workers’ unionization process.
“The demand at the march is that the administration be neutral and stay out of the workers’ decision to unionize,” he said.
In June, the Pomona administration proposed a limited neutrality agreement that was rejected by WJF, said Director of Media Relations Cynthia Peters.
The proposal would have prohibited managers from initiating conversations about unionization, although they would be allowed to respond to questions by employees.The proposal also maintained the college’s right to distribute written information about unionization, “in particular to respond to any misinformation by WFJ.”
Total neutrality, as requested by WFJ, “is the equivalent to a gag order being placed on the College,” wrote Pomona Vice President and Treasurer Karen Sisson in a letter to her colleagues following the proposal.
Rodriguez, however, said that anything but total neutrality allows for the intimidation of workers because managers can distribute anti-union literature and talk to workers about unionization if the workers initiate conversations.
“Their actions have created an environment of terror for union supporters, for immigrants, for workers,” Rodriguez said. “People are afraid to publicly support the union. It’s really impossible to have a democratic process for workers to decide on unionization in that kind of environment.”
Rodriguez said he is skeptical about the timing of the college’s investigation of the employees’ immigration statuses in December, which resulted in the termination of 17 dining hall workers.
“When immigrant workers keep their mouths shut and accept terrible conditions to do their work, no one says anything,” Rodriguez said. It is only when workers ask for better conditions and wages that their immigration status is called into question through selective application of immigration laws, he said.
“The fact that Pomona College did this is beyond words,” Rodriguez said. “They had to have known that if they started checking papers, they would find undocumented workers.”
Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum said the administration supports the rally.
“We work closely to support the students and the community whenever there’s a demonstration,” she said. “We want to make sure that students are supported and community members are supported whether students are part of the demonstration or not.”
The decision to hold the rally on Cesar Chavez Day has particular significance, given the famous activist’s history of fighting for unions.
“This is a direct continuation of the struggle that Cesar Chavez led in his life,” Rodriguez said. “This is a struggle of mostly immigrant workers for dignity and respect and a better way of life.”
The rally will be held from noon to 4 p.m.