Pomona College Dining Services announced a new scheduling system, guaranteed full-time employment for all dining employees this summer, and clarified the system for taking sick leave in its first quarterly meeting Feb. 11 in Frank dining hall. Workers have long complained about the scheduling system and a lack of guaranteed summer work, and some have expressed fears that they could get fired for taking sick leave, especially after the recent voluntary termination of former dining employee Maria Garcia. These complaints have partly fueled the workers’ year-long campaign for unionization and the dining hall boycott this weekend.
Under the new system, Dining Services will determine the positions and shifts needed for each meal, and allow workers to select shifts themselves.
“What I’m doing is properly staffing each kitchen with the correct amount of people,” said Glenn Graziano, the new General Manager of the dining halls. “The employees will have the help that they need, they won’t be running around trying to do two or three jobs. They’ll have that set schedule they can count on.”
If too many staff members request a particular shift, assignments will be made based on performance reviews, attendance, and seniority.
“We serve food 18 hours a day,” said Bob Robinson, Assistant Vice President and Director of Campus Services for Pomona College. “Not everyone can work the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift. Is this a perfect system? No. But we think it’s fair at this point in time.”
Previously, managers assigned shifts to the workers. Workers felt that this system failed to take their input into account.
“People were working at 12:30 at night for late Snack, and then at six in the morning,” said Rolando Araiza, dining hall worker and a leader of the pro-union group of dining hall employees, Workers for Justice (WFJ). “How are you going to sleep for four hours?”
Some workers complained about the arbitrary system for assigning desirable shifts.
“Some of these changes we asked for when Sodexo was here, like fairness in seniority,” dining hall worker Don Townes said. “There’s some people that have been here five to seven years, and some people have been here two years. The person that’s been here two years has the schedule that the person that has seven years wanted. That, to me, doesn’t seem very fair.”
Workers seemed positive about the new system.
“If it’ll give us that opportunity to switch from all night and be able to work in the morning and be at home with our kids, I think it’ll be fair,” Frank supervisor Cathy Hicks said.
According to Robinson, the news system will ensure that all workers get two days off in a row, rather than separate days over the course of the week, and that each worker will stay at the same dining hall, instead of switching between Frary, Frank, and Oldenborg. He also expressed hope that increased flexibility of the system will allow workers to attend evening classes.
“We are committed to allowing that to happen,” he said.
According to Robinson, the new system will be implemented by this March. The system will then remain in place until the end of the semester, when it will be reevaluated.
At the quarterly meeting, Robinson also announced that the college has a full conference schedule planned for summer 2011, so full-time summer employment will be offered to all dining hall workers. This offer is expected to extend to some housekeeping staff as well if all positions in dining are not filled.
Workers applauded the announcement, but some bemoaned the lack of a permanent guarantee for summer employment in the future.
“A lot of workers felt that if every other department has 12 months, why can’t the dining halls?” Araiza said. “We don’t stop paying bills for three months.”
“How do we know it’s a guarantee?” he added. “They can come in any day and say, ‘never mind.’ However, I’m hopeful that it does happen. I think it will.”
Robinson and Assistant Director of Campus Services Margie McKenna also discussed the official policy on sick leave, addressing the concern among some workers that they might get fired for taking sick days.
“If you are sick, we want you to get better,” McKenna said. “No one will lose their job from being sick.” She emphasized that dining hall workers, who work with and around food, should not come to work while sick.
In response to the changes, Hicks said workers were “playing it by ear” and that they would have to wait to see how the administration acts in future.
Araiza agreed. “I think a lot of the problem with sick days is the fact that a couple of workers have daughters or sons who are really sick, and they need to depend on them, or they need the husband or mom who is working to go,” Araiza said. “Before, Pomona would work with these kind of situations. Recently, there were these issues where Pomona didn’t want to.”
Staff members had some reservations about the system for calling in sick, voicing concerns about being able to reach or leave messages for managers. Robinson proposed that Dining Services look into establishing a sick hotline—a single number with voicemail that could be monitored by managers 24 hours a day. Employees generally supported this idea.
Robinson also noted that he would “prefer to not wait for these meetings to address concerns,” referring to the quarterly staff meeting.
“Our doors are open,” he said, referring to himself and the rest of the new management team.
Araiza pointed out that “being part of the team is involving everybody—not just being in the office and assuming things.”
Workers expressed hope after the meeting that Dining Services would be more willing to take their input into consideration.
“We just hope that they’ll listen to us and take us seriously,” Townes said. “The new managers are new at it, so we have to be patient with them, and hope that they’ll do the right thing,” he said.
“It’s like right now—this new management team—they seem to be talking the talk, we just want them to walk the walk.”