A campaign to help former Pomona College employees get rehired encountered an obstacle Sunday, when a manager at Frary Dining Hall told student supporters of Workers for Justice (WFJ) that they could not petition there without permission. At a Food Committee meeting in Frank Dining Hall on Monday, Pomona administrators told the students that they knew of no policy against their petitioning efforts.
Leading a delegation of WFJ supporters at the meeting Monday, Isabel Juarez PO ’13 spoke to General Manager of Dining Services Glenn Graziano about the concern that the administration might be trying to censor the student activists.
“A few of us were petitioning in Frary, and somebody, one of the managers, stopped us and she said that we needed authorization,” Juarez told Graziano.
The students were petitioning to request that the administration guarantee that if any of the 17 workers fired in December obtain valid work authorization, Pomona will rehire them. Two weeks ago, the administration announced that if workers get their authorization and file job applications after their old positions have been filled, those workers will get priority in the hiring process but will not be guaranteed employment.
Juarez said that when the petitioners asked why they needed permission after having petitioned in Frary many times before without needing permission, the manager told them that Graziano’s office had passed down a new policy requiring students to get permission before petitioning in dining halls.
Graziano said that he was unaware of any official policy regarding petitioning in the dining halls. He added that his knowledge of Sunday’s encounter was limited, since he was not present at the time.
“From reports that I have received, students were in the servery, and I think in the past we’ve said that it’s fine to go in the dining room and talk to students in the dining room, but the servery and the kitchen are off limits,” Graziano said. “I don’t have the full story, so I can’t give a full answer.”
Dean of Campus Life Ric Townes, who was the senior administrator on call during the incident Sunday, said that when he received a call from the manager at Frary, he told her that the students were not violating any policy to his knowledge.
Director of Facilities and Campus Services Bob Robinson said he believes that current conversations between the Pomona administration and WFJ, the pro-union group of dining hall workers, are not as effective as they could be, in part because of WFJ’s practice of sending delegations of supporters to talk with administrators.
“It’s a little difficult to just show up with 30 people and expect any sort of meaningful debate,” Robinson said. “Do those tactics work? I guess it depends where you stand,” Robinson said. “If you want to make a statement and a big splash, then yeah, I guess it suits your purpose. But if you really want to sit down and have meaningful dialogue, we’re ready to do that.”
Juarez said that she thinks this tactic is necessary in certain cases. She added that WFJ makes case-by-case decisions about whether to form a delegation or to hold a sit-down meeting with the administration.
“It depends on the situation,” she said. “As students, we want to talk about these issues in dining halls. We’re sending a strong message that we are aware that we are doing nothing wrong and we are going to keep doing what we have been doing.”