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Workers Deserve Respect

The debate over fair treatment of Pomona’s food service employees has been going on for over a decade. In 1999, when all dining hall workers at the Claremont Colleges were employed by the massive food service provider ARAMARK, there were allegations of improper labor practices, according to a website maintained by Pomona’s Communications Department that chronicles unionization efforts at Pomona. In protest against these unfair working conditions, students blockaded Pomona’s Alexander Hall on May 1, 2000, leading to the termination of ARAMARK’s contract later that month and the hiring of all Pomona dining hall workers as Pomona College employees.

But labor disputes persisted. While Pomona’s dining hall workers were on Pomona’s payroll, they were managed by another massive food service provider, Sodexo, which was also accused of treating workers unfairly. Claiming disrespect from management and unfair wage and benefits policies, several of Pomona’s dining hall employees joined together in March 2010 to protest what they perceived as unfair labor practices on the part of Sodexo and Pomona College. These “workers for justice” (WFJ) launched a campaign for unionization, calling on Pomona students and alumni to support them in their cause.

In the time since then, Pomona has removed Sodexo and switched to self-operation of its dining halls, hiring a completely new dining services management team headed up by General Manager Glenn Graziano.

Last week, Pomona cut in half the required health care insurance premiums for employees earning less than $52,000 per year (which includes most dining hall workers). This follows a decision in March of last year to guarantee 12 months of employment for all dining hall workers and a boost in wages for the lowest paid dining hall employees last summer.

And yet, the voices of the workers continue to be ignored. As an article in this week’s paper reveals, some workers have accused management of disrespect and overworking their employees, while others have accused WFJ supporters of misrepresenting the improvements that the administration has made (see story in News).

This Editorial Board asks our readers and all those involved or interested in the WFJ saga to consider the worker. It has become apparent that an underground faction of dogmatically pro-union students, alumni, and outside union organizers have been taking an increased role in the direction of the WFJ movement. At the same time, complaints from workers about disrespect, understaffing, inadequate medical care, and unfair firing policies continue to be ignored by the Pomona College administration. In both cases, the concerns of the workers themselves are being ignored for political reasons, lack of interest in who the workers are, or both.

Whether you consider yourself pro-union or pro-administration, we hope everyone is pro-worker. Our dining hall workers prepare and serve us food—what is more deserving of thanks than that?

Frary chef Benny Avina said it best this week in an interview with TSL: “For me, serving the students is like serving my own family. We are here for a reason, to do a job, and we need to take care of you. It’s our responsibility to take care of you, to make sure everything is fine.”

It’s time we started treating our dining hall workers with the respect they deserve.

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