La Verne Unionizes; Pomona Workers Rally

Dining hall workers at University of La Verne voted to unionize with UNITE HERE Local 11, the union of hospitality and food service workers in the greater Los Angeles area, Thursday, March 7. UNITE HERE Local 11 is the same union that Pomona College dining hall workers would join should Workers for Justice (WFJ) and Pomona come to an agreement about when they could establish a vote and if workers vote in favor of a union.

La Verne dining hall workers began their process of unionization last October when they went public with their intentions to unionize and put forth a demand for a total neutrality agreement from their dining services management. Meanwhile, efforts by Pomona dining hall workers to unionize continued to stall, with another protest March 14.

Bon Appétit, the same food services company employed by Claremont McKenna College and Pitzer College, employs the dining hall staff at University of La Verne, unlike at Pomona, where dining services are managed internally by the college.

According to Pomona Vice President and Treasurer Karen Sisson, the difference in management is a factor in the differences between La Verne workers’ unionization process and Pomona workers’ unionization efforts.

“Food service workers at the University of La Verne are employees of Bon Appétit and not the University. According to my understanding, the university did not take a position and viewed this as an internal matter between Bon Appétit and its employees,” Sisson wrote in an e-mail to TSL.

La Verne dining hall cook Prince Jones said that while the university did not play a role in the negotiation process, it still encouraged Bon Appétit to comply with workers’ demands for full neutrality.

“They [the university] weren’t the ones negotiating, but they put pressure on [Bon Appétit] to agree to what we asked,” Jones said.

Jones added that winning union recognition validated the efforts of La Verne workers throughout the unionization process.

“This victory feels like more than a victory to me: It feels like an opening, an opportunity, a fighting chance at a future. And the fight to get that chance was worth every action, every delegation, and every rally and every meeting. Us winning means volumes to me; my co-workers mean volumes to me—and together ¡sí se pudo! [yes we could!]” Jones said.

Meanwhile, negotiations between WFJ and Pomona have not progressed since June 2011, when the college extended an offer of a 24- to 48-hour period of total neutrality to workers who initially had demanded an indefinite period of total neutrality for them to organize a vote.

Although WFJ has continued to request an indefinite period of total neutrality (as was agreed upon by La Verne workers and Bon Appétit), the college has not changed its stance.

On Thursday, March 14, dining hall workers and student supporters gathered collectively in Dining Services Manager Glenn Graziano’s office to attempt to clarify a workplace policy.

According to Frary Dining Hall cook Rolando Araiza, sous-chefs and other lower-level managers have told dining hall staff that if they are written up three times for workplace infractions, they can be fired. When workers went to Human Resources to clarify the policy, they were told to speak with Graziano.

When they took the issue to Graziano on Thursday, he said at first that it was a question for Human Resources. Araiza explained to him that they had already gone to the office, and Graziano responded by saying that he did not know the details of the policy, so he would have to research the issue and get back to them.

Araiza accepted this response, but added in reference to Graziano: “As general manager, you should know the policies.”

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