Pomona College Dining Services staff voted in favor of unionizing with UNITE-HERE Local 11 by a clear majority of 57-26 Tuesday after over three years of negotiations with the college and recent allegations of intimidation by both sides.
Workers for Justice (WFJ) leader and Frary Dining Hall cook Rolando Araiza announced to an emotional group of workers, students, faculty, and community supporters gathered at the polls after the vote was counted that the vote marked the end of a struggle that has been going on at Pomona for years.
“This was not just a victory for us, but a victory for all the challenges that happened at this place, at Pomona, for several years. Today we showed them, we showed all those people who have fought before that it is possible … we did something today, and we’re going to keep on doing change. We did it, and we did it together. All we can do now is move forward from here,” Araiza said.
Despite fears from both pro-union and anti-union workers of intimidation during the time period before the vote, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Officer Liz Valtierra, who oversaw the election and counted the ballots after the polls closed, stated that there were no violations of NLRB policy brought to her attention or that she observed herself.
“The election went according to our rules and regulations,” Valtierra said without any further comment.
While there were no legally contested issues on election day, tensions leading up to the vote were still high between anti- and pro-union groups of workers. On Tuesday morning, a flyer appeared at Frank, Frary, and Oldenborg Dining Halls pointing out alleged fallacies spread by union representatives. The flyer was published and distributed by a group of five Dining Services leaders and workers and explicitly urged other Dining Services workers to vote “no” on the day of the election. Almost immediately after the dining halls opened, students and dining hall staff affiliated with WFJ were seen removing the flyers from tables in the dining hall.
The group that distributed the flyer expressed that they did not appreciate having their voices effectively silenced by the removal of the flyers but declined to make an official statement.
Pro-WFJ posters made by students, faculty, and community members have been up in Frank and Frary dining halls since last week’s WFJ rally and were not removed by anti-union dining hall staff or Dining Services Management.
In an e-mail to the Pomona community, President David Oxtoby expressed the college’s willing acceptance of the results of the election, adding that the end of the election marked the end of an issue that has divided the college for over three years.
“I’m happy for our employees that this period of uncertainty is now over, and I’m proud of our community for upholding the principles this institution stands for throughout this difficult, sometimes divisive process. I’m also proud of the progress the College administration and dining employees have made together over the last few years in building a Dining Services operation that better serves both the dining needs of this community and the needs of the people who work in our dining halls,” Oxtoby wrote.
In an interview with Araiza after the election results were released, he expressed his hope that students and the greater 5C community realize the significance of the election and the struggle dining hall workers have been going through since the beginning of the union campaign.
“I do want students to really understand that this has been a struggle; it has been a fight with the administration. Maybe it hasn’t been publicly seen because they don’t work there—it’s a different feeling, they’re not at work—but I can tell you that it was there, and it’s probably still going to be there,” Araiza said.
“But now we’re part of something, and we’re part of something big. All I want to do is encourage students to still get involved, you know, work together now that there’s going to be an organization at the kitchen, like, let’s work together,” he added.
Frary cook and WFJ leader Crystal Flores told students who have backed WFJ throughout the years that the workers greatly appreciated their support.
“My deepest, deepest thanks to all you students who helped us … we definitely could not have done this without you,” Flores said through tears at the post-election rally.
While the election only marks the beginning of what will likely be a lengthy and difficult negotiating process until Pomona and UNITE-HERE can work out a contract, Araiza said that he is still excited to play a leading role in what is to come regarding the union.
“I’m happy and excited to be a part of that, to have a voice, to be part of collective bargaining now, you know? It’s one thing to have them telling you next year how it’s going to be, and it’s another feeling talking with them about plans for next year,” he said. “I think with that, we’re going to change the kitchen a lot, but even doing that, the college can see how it’s going to work, and they might apply it to other departments. I mean, like I said, this is a big change.”