Where Things Stand with Dining Hall Workers

After the tumultuous events of last semester, an eerie calm has settled over the Pomona College campus. Aside from Frank Dining Hall’s closure on the weekends, there is not much evidence to attest to the firing of 17 college employees and the unprecedented protests, debates, and meetings that ensued. Even the grass in front of Alexander Hall has grown back. Yet for those 17 employees—and, I’m sure, many other students, staff, and faculty—the memories are still fresh. The “new normal” that has enveloped the campus may leave some to think that nothing came out of last semester’s event, but this is not the case.

At the beginning of this semester it is already known that certain meetings and deliberations will take place. After the Board of Trustees met with students, staff, and faculty last semester it was decided that a trustee-student task force will be meeting over the course of this semester to discuss issues of communication and transparency between the board and the college community. Task force members will also bring this issue up at February’s Board of Trustees meeting. This task force could address the Concerned Pomona Students’ demand for more open channels of communication, though it is unfortunate that it will likely be some time before concrete improvements are made.

At the next Pomona faculty meeting, a proposal will be put up for vote calling on the board to conduct an internal investigation of the events leading up to the employee firings, which it would then report to the faculty. If the proposal is passed the results of the investigation will likely lead to more deliberations by the faculty and to possible future action. It is worrying that the institution that has had the most responsibility in these events is the one being called to investigate itself, without outside supervision, but for the moment it is the best proposal before the faculty and I urge them to pass it, in the hope that more light can be shed on these events. 

Of the people who have been most affected by these events, the workers who were fired and those who remain, much still remains unclear. Workers did meet with trustees during the board’s meeting, and Trustee Jeanne Buckley PO ’65 promised to raise workers’ concerns about workplace intimidation by managers who oppose unionization and unresponsiveness from Human Resources to the board at large. Since the arrests of 15 students, faculty, and activists in an act of civil disobedience there have been no public statements by Workers for Justice (WFJ) or UNITEHERE, the local union assisting WFJ in its unionization efforts. The college is also being investigated by the NLRB over two unfair labor practice charges, though these charges originate from events prior to the issues of document verification. More will certainly be heard from these groups as the semester and these investigations progress.

Along with following these events, I hope that discussion of the issues raised last semester will continue among the community. These events have centered on three critical issues: the ongoing WFJ unionization campaign, the question of democracy at a private college like Pomona, and the national and state struggles over immigration. If no progress is made on these issues then all the work and suffering of last semester will have been for naught. All of these issues are of vital concern to different members of the college community, and there is no reason why they cannot be tackled in tandem. If headway on the employment status of the fired workers is impossible, the college should make progress on acceding to workers’ unionization efforts or opening the administration to greater scrutiny and transparency. For many people, the memories of last semester are still raw and the struggle will continue—as it should if the college wishes to own up to its ideals and rhetoric.

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