Following a year of campaigning, Pitzer staff unionizes

Union organizers Tony Hoang, Jose Ochoa, Thomas Morales and Viridiana Garcia addressed 5C students in a Thursday rally to celebrate Pitzer workers’ union win. (Courtesy of Atlas Pyke)  

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After months of organizing, allegations of administrative wrongdoing and an eventual agreement between the college and a local labor union, Pitzer dining and facilities workers officially unionized.

A majority of Pitzer workers designated UNITE HERE Local 11 — a labor union that represents workers across Southern California — as their exclusive bargaining representative, Pitzer’s office of Human Resources announced in an Aug. 25 email to the Pitzer community.

Pitzer voluntarily recognized the union after a neutral arbitrator confirmed that a majority of workers signed union-authorization cards, the college said in the email.

Earlier this month, Pitzer announced that they reached an agreement with UNITE HERE Local 11 on a “fair, appropriate and efficient process” to determine whether dining and facilities Pitzer workers wanted to be represented by the union.

Through a joint statement with UNITE HERE Local 11 released on Aug. 8, Pitzer’s Office of Human Resources announced that it would take a neutral approach to union organizing.

“There is currently a renewed national movement toward the right of workers to organize,” the Office of Human Resources wrote in the statement. “Pitzer College, with our academic focus and our very identity centered on social justice, embraces this movement.”

Prior to Pitzer’s announced agreement with UNITE HERE Local 11, some administrative members of the college had come under fire in May for allegedly committing actions intended to bust unionizing efforts.

Pitzer groundskeeper and union organizer Tony Hoang alluded to this prior struggle in a student rally organized by the Claremont Student Workers Alliance to celebrate Pitzer workers’ new union this Thursday.

“I see all of these people more than I see my family,” Hoang said in the rally. “I want my home, this home, to be a place of serenity and peace and camaraderie and respect, and something I noticed right away [when I started working here] was the culture here was sort of in this bad place. And that’s why this union is necessary. That’s why we fought so hard, because we want to stand up for each other.”

Pomona College dining hall workers, and staff from the Hilton DoubleTree, Whittier College and San Bernandino’s Amazon warehouse were also present at the rally. Some talked to students about the rise in union organizing movements in the Inland Empire.

Pomona College dining hall union member and caterer Salvador Chavez told TSL that Pitzer’s new union was significant to Pomona workers.

“Now that we have [a union at] Pitzer, we feel more comfortable, we feel stronger — even more because it wasn’t just the kitchen that won, it was the other workers, and that’s important,” Chavez told TSL. “That’s why we’re [in this rally] supporting them. Because I know that when we need help, they’ll be there for us.”

Now that they are officially unionized, Pitzer workers are preparing for their first contract negotiations with the college, according to Jose Ochoa, McConnell cook and union organizer. 

He said organizers are conducting surveys with workers to make sure their needs are advocated for.

Organizers will be negotiating for better pay, more accessible health insurance, better hours and opportunities for workers’ children to study in Pitzer, Ochoa said. 

Though the fall semester’s workload may elongate the process, he said he was hopeful about what the negotiations would bring.

“I don’t think there’s going to be retaliation from Pitzer,” Ochoa said. “I think they’re going to listen to us.”

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