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Workers protest over fired colleague

Approximately 100 Pomona College dining hall workers and students took action on Wednesday afternoon in response to the firing of longtime dining hall worker Francisco Garcia last month.

The group protested Mr. Garcia’s termination and present working conditions outside of Alexander Hall for nearly an hour and at one point moved the rally to the 2nd floor of the administration building. Workers for Justice, an independent labor organization of Pomona College dining hall workers, students and community members, organized the protest.

“We want Francisco’s job back and we thinking that his firing was an intentional effort,” said Pomona College Class of 2010’s Francisco Covarrubias. “The dining hall workers are people who deserved the best treatment because they cook for us and take care of us.

“We’re [also] supporting workers who have been fighting for a fair democratic process for a union.”

Mr. Garcia had worked for Pomona College for 16 years before he was fired on July 5th of this year. He had been on medical leave because of a severe back injury he suffered on the job and received notice of his termination during that period.

The longtime Pomona College cook said he has seen other workers treated similarly during his stint with the school.

“I’ve been disabled for a year and then they sent me a letter saying I was fired,” Mr. Garcia said. “It’s unfair that I worked there for 16 years and then they fire me like that. Right now, after a year of being on disability, they’ll fire you. There have been about 6 other workers I’ve seen that happen to since I worked there.”

Mr. Garcia and other members of Workers for Justice believe the dining hall workers push for a union has put them under more pressure from management. The group has been seeking to establish a union without interference since March 2010, when more than 90 percent of dining hall workers and 50 percent of students delivered petitions to President David Oxtoby.

The Workers for Justice group claimed dining hall workers have been the subjects of intimidation by management through holding one-on-one meetings with the workers; demanding workers remove their union buttons and the firing of Mr. Garcia. The workers also assert Pomona College has understaffed the dining hall and does not provide adequate pay.

The scenario is nothing new for retired Pitzer College professor Jose Calderon, who is a longtime activist and was part of the Cesar Chavez protests in the 1960s and 70s.

“Every time a movement starts to grow, any minor offense can be used as a means to get rid of leaders,” Mr. Calderon explained during the rally. “Not only do they need to listen to the workers, but they have to ensure they are listening to the students, who are the foundation of the economy of this college.”

One of the topics of disagreement between the workers and Pomona College has been with the limited neutrality the college is granting to the workers as they decide on whether to form a union. Workers for Justice want full neutrality during the process as to avoid any interference or intimidation from the college.

Pomona College Vice President and Treasurer Karen Sisson likened full neutrality to placing a “gag order” on the college in an update on negotiations in June and believes it will infringe on college employees being able to discuss their views on unionization.

“The college’s management would be required to remain silent on the issue of unionization indefinitely—potentially for months or even years—until Workers for Justice decided that they would be ready to seek an NLRB election,” Ms. Sisson wrote in her update. “Full neutrality means that the college could not discuss unionization during this extended period even if an employee initiated the conversation and could not respond to misinformation or factual errors in Workers for Justice communications.”

Ms. Sisson said she would have addressed the crowd of protesters, but wasn’t given the opportunity to do so. She stated that the college has openly supported the workers’ desire for a union and has worked to ensure employees involved in union efforts would not be mistreated.

“Unfortunately, they can’t accept anything other than full neutrality but the college can not accept full neutrality as an educational institution,” Ms. Sisson told the COURIER. “[But] the college has been on record as being a supporter of their right to choose to form a union. We will respect that choice.”

–Landus Rigsby

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