The Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Senate voted last week to form a subcommittee dedicated to investigating and informing students about the current status of the debate over unionization for Pomona’s dining hall workers. According to ASPC senators, the subcommittee is an attempt to address widespread ignorance and confusion among the Pomona student body about the proposed unionization and claims from workers and the administration regarding the conflict.
“There is no single reliable source that students can turn to for a detailed summary of the history of the campaign and of the concerns of the administration or the workers,” said ASPC Commissioner of Communications Will Mullaney PO ’12, who authored the subcommittee proposal.
The debate over unionization emerged in March 2010 after a pro-union group of dining hall workers called the Workers for Justice (WFJ) launched a campaign for unionization, claiming that upwards of 90 percent of the dining hall workers at Pomona had signed a petition calling for unionization. Prior to the launch of the campaign, some workers had accused the college of mistreating staff members. Workers were also requesting guarantees of full-year employment, less expensive health insurance coverage, proper medical treatment, and respect from managers.
Last year, the school moved to self-operation of the dining halls, replacing the massive food service company Sodexo, which previously managed all dining hall workers. Pomona hired new managers for the dining halls, but complaints from workers remained and the debate over unionization continued.
According to ASPC President Nate Brown PO ’12, the goal of the recently-formed subcommittee is to provide objective information through a combination of sources from both the administration and WFJ about the claims of each side and the status of a vote over unionization. Since March 2010, when the campaign for unionization was launched, plans for a vote over unionization have been stalled due to disputes between WFJ and the administration over voting procedures.
“I think it’s the job of the Senate to inform the student body of certain issues, and this is consistent with what we set out to do a couple years ago,” Brown said, referencing an ASPC Senate resolution drafted shortly after the launch of the WFJ campaign for unionization. According to the resolution, dated March 11, 2010, the Senate pledged to “call for the administration to maintain continual communication with the Senate throughout the process, and [to] continue to make information available to students.” The resolution also affirmed the right of the dining hall workers to organize and to make procedural decisions in an environment free from intimidation.
Mullaney said he proposed the subcommittee because he hoped to foster an open discussion of the issue at hand.
“As the Commissioner of Communications, I want to facilitate a dialogue among students, administration, and other members of the Pomona college community,” he wrote in the proposal.
Brown said he hoped all senators would take an active role in the subcommittee so that it would reflect the various perspectives of the student body.
“There are students on Senate who are involved with Workers for Justice and there are also students who don’t necessarily agree with their vision and tactics,” he said. “What we are trying to do with this committee is represent all of those different points of view.”
“It’s not going to be an advocacy for either side,” he added. “It’s primarily about information.”
When the subcommittee was proposed last week, some senators objected to the specificity of its focus, arguing that it should be geared toward the issues of all Pomona College staff members, and not just dining hall workers. Several senators agreed with this proposal, but Senate did not finalize the scope of the subcommittee.
“[The subcommittee] is now most likely going to cover any and all concerns regarding housekeeping, groundskeeping, and maintenance staff,” Mullaney said. “We still need to have further discussion about it though.”
For the time being, the heads of the subcommittee will be Mullaney, Brown, Commissioner of Community Relations Sarah Appelbaum PO ’13, and Commissioner of Clubs and Sports Ari Filip PO ’12.