The Claremont Progressive: Notes from the Open Forum

From The Claremont Progressive: Link to original article

By GABE LEWIN and SAMUEL PANG

This Tuesday, five dining hall workers who lost their jobs in December after Pomona’s document checks spoke about why they were fired, the daily injustices they faced working at Pomona, and how they’ve continued to fight since they were fired.

The document checks happened in the middle of a union organizing drive. At the forum, the workers asked repeatedly why the administration decided to demand their immigration papers now after the workers have worked at Pomona for years and, in some cases, decades.

“They wanted to get rid of us, so they found a way to get rid of us,” Christian Torres said.

Torres emphasized how the fight at Pomona is part of the national fight for immigrant justice. He described how the workers have given a lot in the workplace and that they deserve to be part of this country.

Injustices at Work and Bad Managers:

The five workers described in detail the regular problems they had at work and the climate of fear managers created after the union organizing campaign went public.

Torres discussed how before the union organizing drive went public, he was making $9.50 an hour. Healthcare was unaffordable, and working conditions were, and continue to be, unsafe.

“This is why I’m here right now. The way [the workers] are treated—it’s terrible,” he said.

In particular, Torres described how many workers have fallen, injured their backs, and how he repeatedly burned his hands because of the overwhelming pace of work. He said that the workers often told managers about the problems, but that the managers didn’t care.

Since Pomona fired Sodexo over a year ago, the new managers have targeted leaders in the union organizing campaign. Torres talked about how, in one instance, general manager Glenn Graziano pulled him into his office and asked him why he was fighting for the union. Graziano told him that “the union won’t protect your job and that it won’t get you raises or better healthcare.”

After Torres led a delegation to President Oxtoby to tell him about the meeting and to demand that these sorts of meetings stop, the College held their own investigation. Shockingly, they found themselves not guilty. The investigation found that Torres, not Graziano, called the meeting and that Torres asked for the meeting so that they could discuss his schedule.

“It was my voice against the manager’s voice,” Torres said.

Workers also discussed how, in past years, managers encouraged workers to call in sick when they weren’t feeling well to keep other workers from getting sick and to keep the food safe. But since Graziano and the other managers were hired, things have changed. After one worker called in sick, Graziano became angry, called him back and told him to take a pill and get back to work. Since then, workers have been coming to work sick because they’re afraid to take sick days.

As bad as the managers are, Torres emphasized how getting rid of the managers is not enough and how, to have a real solution, the workers need a voice in the workplace.

How fired workers have been organizing and how students can help:

Juan, another fired dining hall worker, discussed how, since they were fired, they’ve ramped up many parts of their organizing. In particular, they’ve been organizing with local immigrants’ rights organizations and with students at other colleges.

The workers asked for students’ continued support in the fight for a fair process to unionize and urged students to attend any future protests or events.

In particular, the weekend of the 24th-26th is the Faculty-Trustee retreat. The trustees will not actually be on-campus; instead, they will be meeting with faculty and members of the administration at a hotel. The workers urged students to stay updated for what exactly they will do that weekend.

But no matter what specific actions are taken, the workers made it clear that they will continue to fight and are committed to winning. As Juan put it, “We’re not finished. We’re just beginning.”

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