The three-year anniversary since Pomona College dining workers went public with their request to the administration for a fair process to unionize was Sunday, March 3. To mark the occasion, Workers for Justice (WFJ) held a rally outside of Frank Dining Hall after Sunday’s brunch that brought together dining hall workers and students to speak out against Pomona’s denial of WFJ’s demand for total neutrality in the time period before, during, and after dining hall workers vote on unionization.
One speaker at Sunday’s rally was Prince Jones, a dining services worker at University of La Verne, who is part of the current unionization effort at La Verne that was inspired by WFJ’s efforts at Pomona.
La Verne workers began demanding a total neutrality agreement in October 2012 after seeing how the process was playing out at Pomona. With the support of students and faculty they were able to get Bon Appétit, La Verne’s outsourced dining services management company, to agree to the same total neutrality agreement as proposed by WFJ to Pomona.
Jones stated that La Verne workers were able to negotiate so efficiently because the university was worried about getting a reputation like the one Pomona received after 17 dinning hall workers were fired in December 2011.
“It started for a while, mainly because of what was going on here, because Pomona got into quite a bit of trouble with what they did, firing the workers and stuff like that. They got a bad rep,” Jones said.
Jones added that La Verne workers will have voted on unionization by Thursday, March 7, just five months after they went public with their intent to unionize.
“We’re voting on Thursday because we have the neutrality, so we’re able to do that, but here [at Pomona] it’s not like that at all, as you can see,” Jones said.
At Pomona, three years after the workers went public, the administration’s position on the issue has not changed since April 2011. The administration has offered a neutrality period of 24 to 48 hours before workers vote on joining a union.
During negotiations in April 2011, WFJ agreed to a secret ballot election to be administered by the National Labor Relations Board on the condition that the college would agree to a total neutrality agreement in which the administration would not be able to say anything to dining hall workers about unionization for an indefinite period of time.
Vice President and Treasurer of the College Karen Sisson said at the time and has reiterated as recently as January 2013 that agreeing to full neutrality on those terms would be inconsistent with the college’s value of free exchange of views.
“We could not accept the principle of total neutrality because we are an educational institution: We believe in the free exchange of views, and we believe it’s important for people to make decisions with complete information, and so we have wanted to make sure our speech during any kind of union campaign was not prohibited,” Sisson said.
Student supporter of WFJ Jonah Breslau PO ’14 criticized the college’s rationale for denying WFJ’s neutrality proposal.
“While the administration may say that they value democracy and the free exchange of information, their actions speak louder than words. For one, part of the reasoning behind their refusal to give the workers neutrality is that they want to be able to hold ‘captive audience meetings,’ that is, mandatory meetings where the workers hear ‘both sides’ of the issue as presented by Pomona College,” Breslau said at the rally.
He added, “That would be like if President Obama had demanded prior to the last election that, by law, every registered voter attend an info session where he explains why we should vote for him. Apparently, that is what passes for democracy these days.”