In the spirit of Food Day, Workers for Justice (WFJ) held a panel on Thursday to discuss the current state of dining hall workers’ unionization efforts as well as staffing issues at Frary Dining Hall. The panel consisted of Frary cook Rolando Araiza, UNITE HERE organizer Haley Kossek, former Pomona chef Christian Torres and University of La Verne junior Brenda Uribe.
Eric Martinez PO ’14 facilitated the panel and spoke about the importance of dining hall workers as members of the community and as an integral part of sustainable food in the dining halls.
“At the end of the day, we need to make sure that everything that goes into putting good food on our plates is good. Dining hall workers are part of our community and should be treated as such,” Martinez said.
Araiza was the first to speak. He said that sustainability efforts in recent years have added extra work for dining hall workers, who were experiencing understaffing issues especially after 17 workers were fired last December.
“After December, it made it hard to continue the sustainability program. The atmosphere changed, but the work was still hard. They [Dining Services management] put more work on people to the point where OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] had to come in because of injuries,” Araiza said.
Araiza added that he believes workers have been underrepresented in Dining Services’ decision-making processes, which has been the cause of problems such as understaffing.
“If they included workers when they make decisions about students, we would be able to give better input,” he said.
Former Pomona employee Torres also said that there was a lack of communication between dining hall staff and Dining Services management while he was employed by the college.
Torres, who has recently obtained a new job as a cook for a food service company in Los Angeles, said that he was taken aback when his new employer approached him and his colleagues to get their opinions on menu changes, something that he had not experienced while working at Pomona.
“I was surprised when the manager came to us to ask how the menu was. I thought, ‘You’re asking me?’” Torres said.
Uribe and Kossek, who were invited by WFJ to share their experiences with unionization among dining hall workers on other college campuses, added their stories to the panel discussion.
Uribe told the crowd that University of La Verne dining hall workers had gone public with their intention to unionize on Tuesday, Oct. 23, and their efforts had been inspired by the WFJ movement at Pomona College.
“We found out about what happened here in December, and what happened here was happening at La Verne also. The workers have certain rights and these rights were being violated,” Uribe said.
Kossek offered a perspective from the other end of the unionization process that she helped organize at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass. Dining hall staff recently reached an agreement with management at Northeastern, which resulted in what Kossek described as a peaceful conclusion in the form of a dinner that brought workers, managers and the community together.
“After a tentative settlement was reached, there was a sustainable meal for the community,” she said. “General managers who had been subject to half a dozen delegations stood on the other side of the table with ladles serving the community. This movement is taking hold at other places across the country and it can happen here.”