The worker unionization process has raised questions about the character of our community and challenged every student to examine the gulf that exists between our vision of Pomona and the realities experienced and expressed by many of the workers. The unionization attempt has no doubt added weight to Pomona’s collective conscience—we have had to ask difficult questions of ourselves, enter conversations where we disagree with one another, and think about whether the institution we are a part of is acting justly toward all its members. Yet if we can engage the long-standing contradictions within our community instead of turning away from the discomfort, this moment in our institution’s history holds great potential. The workers’ courage, far from undermining our status as the “(third) happiest campus,” provides us with an opportunity to make this portrayal real.
In the past few weeks, Pomona’s dining hall workers have stepped out on numerous occasions to make clear their continued dedication to a demand for a fair unionizing process. Two weeks ago, workers delivered a letter to the administration indicating that they had been legally certified as a labor organization and were hoping to meet with the college in order to reach a labor peace agreement. Twice in the past two weeks, workers have held marches during their afternoon breaks.
The message seems clear: While the “worker issue” may ebb and flow in our day-to-day student conversations, the workers who are active in this campaign are as committed as ever. It’s not unrealistic to expect a drawn-out conflict, one that threatens to deepen the divisions within the campus community. It’s in the workers’ interest to avoid a tiring fight, and it’s in the college’s interest to avoid student dining hall boycotts, potential strikes, negative publicity, and further worker discontent. Every day this issue goes unresolved adds tension where it need not exist.
There is no question that we must move forward toward labor peace. There is no question that the workers who have stepped forward have legitimate grievances and are indeed committed to this struggle. There is no question that their pain and sense of mistreatment runs deep and that the wound inflicted upon the workers is indeed becoming a wound that affects us all. The question is how we move forward.
A card-check neutrality agreement is the product of a negotiation: The process invites all parties to come together in conversation to forge a labor peace that everyone finds fair. This means that the administration’s concern for the workers’ privacy could be inserted into the agreement by enlisting a third-party election administrator. Both sides could determine what a fair lead-up process would look like: who can express which opinions and in which contexts. A card-check agreement would ensure a process in which communication can flourish free from intimidation. The agreement could also protect the school from pickets and marches, work stoppages, and other action on campus.
There is no reason to doubt the efficacy of the card-check procedure: Across the country, the process has emerged as the primary way for workers to organize. Card-check neutrality agreements have been recognized by every major hotel in the U.S. and have been signed by corporations like AT&T and Lucent Technologies. At LAX, the city of Los Angeles has instituted a “Labor Peace” policy in which all private businesses in the airport must sign card-check neutrality agreements. The procedure has become so standard that as a senator, President Obama co-sponsored a bill that would legally require employers to recognize the card-check process as soon as a majority of employees sign cards.
The card-check process is not only reasonable and standard—it is the process the workers have chosen and continue to stand behind.
It is distressing to envision a Pomona College characterized by divisiveness and conflict. It’s difficult to imagine a resolution without a card-check neutrality agreement, and we see no compelling reason why this agreement can’t happen here.