A handful of Pomona dining hall workers, students, faculty, and Workers for Justice (WFJ) organizers held a delegation yesterday in Alexander Hall to protest mandatory meetings held by Dining Services management on Thursday morning regarding the upcoming unionization vote among dining hall workers. The purpose of the delegation was to assess whether the mandatory meeting was inappropriate or failed to adhere to its intended script, which discussed voting logistics and addressed misinformed rumors about healthcare benefits under a union as compared to the college’s healthcare plan.
Under the current agreement between WFJ organizers and the school administration, the college is not obligated to maintain full neutrality, which would prohibit it from holding required meetings with the entire Dining Services staff. According to Pomona College President David Oxtoby, the purpose of these meetings has been to answer questions asked by Dining Services staff and respond to any misinformation about unionization.
While multiple staff-wide meetings have been held since WFJ filed for an election date with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) three weeks ago, yesterday’s meeting, which was held at 6:30 a.m., generated concern among some workers in attendance.
The meeting, led by Director of Campus Facilities Bob Robinson and Assistant Director Margie McKenna, was guided by a script prepared by members of the Pomona College Communications staff. The script, a copy of which was provided to TSL by the school, addressed a rumor among dining hall employees that college administrators receive free healthcare, and also encouraged dining hall workers to compare the healthcare benefits that UNITE HERE would provide if a majority of workers vote a union on April 30 to the benefits the workers currently receive from Pomona.
The script read, “I know that health
insurance is an important issue for many of you. We’re proud of the health care
plans and other benefits the College offers. As you make your decision, we hope
you’ll look for answers to the questions you think are important. If you have
heard the union will provide free health care, you can certainly ask the union
representatives what that means. You can also review details about the union’s
plans on the union’s website, called uniteherehealth.org.
We encourage you to learn all you can so that you can make an informed decision.”
Oxtoby clarified that, consistent with the script, the meeting was held to clarify this point.
“We’ve always said we would correct misinformation, and we have from many—several sources found out that people have been told that the benefits that administrators get, free health care, whereas workers, of course, don’t get free healthcare. And of course we needed to correct that misinformation,” Oxtoby said.
Frank Dining Hall employee Horace Chavez said that he found the content of Thursday morning’s mandatory meeting to be inappropriate and intimidating, because workers were required to listen to Robinson discuss their benefits, which Chavez told Robinson was illegal.
“They began to tell us that there has been some rumors about healthcare benefits and all that stuff. And that’s when I told them, you are not supposed to talk about that, because you are talking about the union. And that’s a captive meeting, because they don’t let no one else, just us,” Chavez said.
Chavez also argued at the delegation that Robinson did not follow the script. “It was not read, I was there,” he said, in a moment of verbal disagreement with Oxtoby. “It was not reading, it was just talking. I
was there, I was in front of them, and when I told them… because he was asking
and saying you need to vote this, and I told him, like, Mr. [Robinson] you can not tell us what to do, you can not can just
encourage us to vote.”
Pomona student and WFJ supporter Jonah Breslau PO ’14 said that although the college claims that mandatory meetings are only to discredit misinformation about unionization, the idea of mandatory meetings in and of itself is inherently intimidating. This argument has been behind the movement’s push toward a full neutrality agreement over the past two years.
“I don’t think that mandatory meetings are an appropriate way for the school to try to provide information to workers. I think it’s—frankly it’s condescending, it’s paternalistic, and it’s very intimidating for the workers, because it’s a show of force that they can gather all the workers together. It’s a reminder of how much control they have over them, and if they were sincerely motivated and just making sure that people were making the right decisions, it’s not clear why that’s necessary,” Breslau said.
Gabe Lewin PO ’13, who led Thursday’s delegation in Alexander Hall, told Oxtoby during the delegation that in the next few days before Tuesday’s vote, WFJ will be closely monitoring the college’s actions and they will not tolerate further mandatory meetings.
“We’re here to tell you that, to give a strong message from alumni, from students, from the workers and faculty, who are asking you to tell Bob Robinson, Margie McKenna, and Glenn Graziano, and all the other managers to stop having such meetings, and also to tell you that we’re going to be very vigilant the next five days through the election to make sure that no further meetings happen. That’s all we have to say,” Lewin said.