Oxtoby Must Clarify His Position on Workers’ Union

As detailed in this week’s front-page article, Pomona President David Oxtoby has stated that the college is unlikely to allow its food-service workers the “card-check” vote to form a union that workers and student activists are advocating. This response follows a petition, personally delivered to the president on Monday by scores of workers and students, requesting that food-service workers be allowed to hold a vote on whether or not to form a union, and that the college recognize the union if more than 50 percent of workers vote in favor of it.

Oxtoby has said that he opposes the card-check method because individual employees’ votes could be made public; he claims that the card-check process is not one where votes could remain “truly anonymous.” The president has also stated that he feels that an agreement to such a vote would side-step a genuine discussion of labor issues at the college.

Many labor experts and activists, however, recognize that a card-check process actually can protect employees’ anonymity. Employees would be able to complete their ballots privately, and the results would be verified by a third-party agreed upon by the workers and the college. This is the type of process supported by Workers for Justice, the group that organized Monday’s march to Oxtoby’s office.

Workers for Justice claims that 90 percent of Pomona’s food service workers signed the petition presented to Oxtoby. The president’s chief response so far has been to urge more discussion on the matter in order to give staff the opportunity to decide whether or not they want to vote.

Oxtoby has said that if a union vote is truly supported by the workers, the college would likely support a vote administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). But some labor experts, as well as Workers For Justice, allege that this method heavily favors employers.

In an e-mail to the community on Wednesday, Oxtoby wrote that discussion should “result in free choice through a fair, secret ballot election.” Presumably all would agree on this point, but Oxtoby’s support of an NLRB-administered process over a card-check process demonstrates a deep disagreement with the majority of those currently supporting a union vote.

It is now the president’s responsibility to further clarify exactly why his proposed method is the most fair and most anonymous for workers. Is he concerned that a card-check vote, though it does preserve voters’ anonymity to employers, might still put employees in jeopardy of intimidation? (Their votes would be known to the third-party card-taker.) If Oxtoby continues to dismiss the card-check process simply by calling it a public vote, he does so at his own peril. He must explain to the community exactly why his proposed method would be best for workers and for the community at large.

Now is the time for Oxtoby to make his intentions and motives clear. If he truly intends to provide space to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of unionization, the conversation should include an informed discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of an anonymous card-check process versus an NLRB-administered process. It is within Oxtoby’s legal rights to deny the card-check process, but if he truly “respects the right of staff members to decide whether or not they wish to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining,” as he wrote in his e-mail, he will be willing to hear arguments that a card-check process may be the most fair process. Presumably, he will make the case for the federally-administered method, and the community can then make informed decisions that are not based on activist or administrative rhetoric.

If, on the other hand, Oxtoby is unwilling to support unionization at all, he should come out and say so. For instance, he has expressed concern that a union could harm channels of communication between the college and workers. If Oxtoby is concerned with the problems that could arise from unionization, he should detail those concerns publicly instead of saying he wholeheartedly supports unionization measures.

With the dramatic action taken on Monday, Pomona dining service workers have made their concerns fairly clear. It’s time for Oxtoby to do the same. He can start by clarifying his rationale for his preferred method and by justifying his claims that a card-check process is inherently undemocratic. Until then, he will be unable to combat the growing claim among students that he has turned his back on workers’ concerns.

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