On Thursday, Jan. 31, Pomona College dining hall workers hosted an open forum to discuss their ongoing campaign for unionization, which began on March 1, 2010. Workers for Justice (WFJ), a group of Pomona dining hall workers pursuing unionization, has stated that they will not call a vote to unionize until the administration, Board of Trustees, and dining hall managers agree to a full neutrality contract.
Gerardo Paleo PO ’15 attended the event to learn more about the workers’ perspectives on the unionization issue in light of the demonstration that took place in December.
“Basically, I wanted to get an opportunity to listen to the workers’ side of the story regarding the events that occurred at the end of the semester. [Then Acting President Cecilia] Conrad gave her position and described the events in her e-mail she sent out, and I thought it would be unfair to judge the workers’ actions before allowing them to give their side of the story,” Paleo said.
According to the event’s Facebook page, the forum served as an opportunity for students to “Find out more about how workers are standing together again a year after the firings, why workers are organizing and how students can get involved.”
According to the WFJ website, a full neutrality agreement would mean that the managers, Board of Trustees, and the administration could not say, publish, or otherwise distribute information about unions and the unionization process for an extended period of time before workers vote on whether they want to assemble a union or not. This would prevent the College and dining hall management from potentially influencing the votes of dining hall staff.
While President Oxtoby, on behalf of the college, has officially stated that the college does not believe in practicing intimidation tactics to influence workers’ votes, Frary Dining Hall cook and WFJ leader Rolando Araiza claimed at the forum that workers were in fact being intimidated.
“Pomona has told us to our face that they weren’t going to intimidate us, that they weren’t going to put us in those kind of environments, but they lied. They did,” Araiza said.
Although he offered no specific evidence of intimidation at the forum on Thursday, in past interviews with TSL, Arazia has alluded to instances of dining hall management holding one-on-one meetings with workers that were seen as intimidation tactics.
In an interview five days after the open forum, Vice President and Treasurer of the College Karen Sisson denied that any such intimidation had occurred and added that upper management in Dining Services has been instructed to refrain from any conversations with workers concerning unionization to avoid situations that might be interpreted as intimidation.
“All I can say is that I have, I know Bob Robinson [Assistant Vice President and Director of Facilities and Campus Services] has, I know Margie McKenna [Assistant Director of Campus Services] has, Glenn [Graziano, Dining Services General Manager] has always instructed staff they’re not to have any conversation about unions with employees in a one-on-one situation,” Sisson said.
In an e-mail to the student body sent last December, then Acting President Conrad explained what full neutrality would mean for Pomona.
“The College would have to agree to remain silent, even in the event of distributed misinformation or when managers are asked questions by employees, for a period that could last months or even years,” Conrad wrote.
Sisson said that full neutrality would not reflect the values of Pomona.
“The college’s offer of partial neutrality arises from the fact that we are an educational institution that values all sides of an issue being discussed, [that] values individuals having complete information when they’re making decisions,” Sisson said.
Another issue preventing any progress being made towards a union vote is that WFJ and Pomona disagree on the method by which dining hall workers would carry out the actual vote.
WFJ favors a “card-check” system in which workers would sign cards saying they were in favor of a union. If over 50 percent of workers submit cards, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), who oversees the process, automatically requires the institution to recognize the union. If less than 50 percent but more than 30 percent of workers submit cards, the NLRB proceeds with a secret ballot election, where all workers cast ballots either in favor or against a union and their votes are kept private.
The College, however, does not agree with the card-check system and, as Sisson said, insists upon secret ballot-only election in order to prevent intimidation and pressure from either WFJ or the administration.