Claremont – Pomona College Dining Hall workers voted in favor of joining UNITE HERE Local 11 on Tuesday. A group of workers, joined by student and faculty allies, erupted in emotional applause as the results were read. The victory closes a long chapter in the workers’ struggle to gain union representation, which publicly began when they announced their intention to form a union in March 2010.
While the college administration pledged to refrain from intimidating the workers, their three-year campaign was wrought with controversy. The union campaign attracted national media attention and ignited a debate about the rights of immigrant workers. In 2011, the administration instituted a gag rule barring students and workers from talking in the dining halls. The rule was ultimately rescinded by the college, after the NLRB’s general counsel charged that it violated federal labor law.
"This is as much your victory as it is ours," Crystal Flores, a Pomona cook, said to a group of student supporters through a stream of tears. "We could never have done this without all of you."
Isabel Juarez, a Pomona senior, echoed that sentiment. "Today is a victory for everyone at Pomona," said Juarez "This was a long and difficult journey, and I am elated to see how far we’ve come."
Students, faculty members and alumni have supported the workers throughout their campaign, sending letters to the administration, signing petitions and joining in protests. Dining hall workers who helped organize the union say that the support of the Pomona community was critical to their victory.
Victor Silverman, a Professor of History at Pomona, remarked on the significance of the workers’ victory for the entire college community. "The educational institution has been, in a sense, turned over," said Silverman. "The workers are teaching us what it means to have a voice and to have power in this institution. You will continue to make this place a true institution of learning, and a place true to its values."
"I hope that this is another step in the direction of healing the Pomona community," said Pomona alum Francisco Dueñas. "As an alum, I know the workers are a part of our community and that’s why I’ve always supported them."
The workers will become members of UNITE HERE Local 11, a union that represents 20,000 hospitality and food service workers in Southern California. The UNITE HERE International Union represents food service workers at more than 100 colleges and universities in the US and Canada. While most college cafeterias are run by outside contractors, Pomona College oversees its own food service operation.
Watch the video below of workers, students, and faculty allies in response to the vote count: