By JEFF ZALESIN
In a show of opposition to Pomona College’s decision to terminate 17 employees who could not verify their employment documentation before yesterday’s 5 p.m. deadline, 15 supporters of the terminated employees were arrested for refusing to move from the middle of an intersection this morning. The arrests were part of a large protest that drew more than 100 students, workers, professors, union organizers and Claremont residents.
Protesters marched into Frary Dining Hall just after breakfast hours, chanting “We’re here to work!” and demanding that the terminated dining hall employees be allowed to return to their jobs. Managers did not allow the former employees and their supporters to enter the kitchen.
“What you’re doing is wrong,” one fired worker told Dining Services General Manager Glenn Graziano, who stood between protesters and the Frary kitchen. “We have given our lives here to work for the students, and we will not let you remove us.” Several officers from Campus Safety and the Claremont Police Department (CPD) were stationed outside Frary, with some Campus Safety officers inside the building as well.
After hearing a series of speeches by fired workers and labor advocates, the protesters marched to Alexander Hall, where they picketed. They then moved to the intersection of Fourth Street and College Avenue, close to Pomona President David Oxtoby’s home, where 15 of them sat down in the street to carry out a planned act of civil disobedience.
CPD officers arrested these 15 protesters, a group that included current 5C students as well as alumni and Pitzer College professor José Calderón, after they ignored repeated commands to disperse. As they were being handcuffed, these protesters called the names of fired workers and denounced what they described as an unjust decision by the Pomona administration, while a crowd of supporters chanted “Sí, se puede” and “This is what democracy looks like” from the sidewalk.
“Many years from now, I know your children and students will ask you, ‘Where were you on that day when they fired those workers that brought the food to your table?’” Calderón said in a speech at Frary, just after announcing that he was prepared to be arrested. “All of you are going to be able to say to your children, ‘I was there and I was fighting injustice.’”
“I’m ready to sacrifice some things in order to create a different atmosphere for Pomona College workers in the future,” said Davis Saul PO ’14, who was also arrested.
By the end of the day, all 15 arrested protesters were released from jail and assigned court appearance dates.
Calderón also said that the terminated workers had begun to receive support from national organizations that are interested in trying to counteract the Pomona administration’s decision.
“We’re getting messages from legal and civil rights organizations that they feel that what the Pomona College administration is doing is illegal,” he told The Student Life.
In addition to the support of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Pomona’s terminated workers have received a message of support from Judy Chu, a Southern California Democrat in the House of Representatives. Bryan Urias, a member of Chu’s staff, attended today’s protest on behalf of the congresswoman, who may soon become Claremont’s representative because of citizen-led redistricting.
“She wanted me to be here to let all of you know, to let the workers know, to let Pomona College know, that she is watching what is going on and she is disgusted with the process that happened here,” Urias said.
Urias added that Chu had personally called President Oxtoby to ask him to reconsider his decision to terminate employees who could not update their documentation by Dec. 1. He also said that Chu’s office intended to help the terminated workers who wanted to fix their documentation and get re-hired by Pomona.
The protesters who were arrested had initially planned to hold their sit-in inside one of Pomona’s dining halls. Such an action might not have led to arrest, according to Pomona administrators.
“At a meeting this morning, we actually got word that there were protesters going into Frary Dining Hall, and a decision was made that if there was going to be a sit-in in the dining hall, we would allow that sit-in to take place,” Pomona spokesperson Cynthia Peters said.
Peters added that some of the reporters she spoke to about the protest seemed to confuse the issue of employment documentation with the dining hall workers’ union drive. Pomona administrators have maintained that the process of checking documents was not timed to counteract the union drive.
“Telemundo called me this evening to ask me to comment on the arrests relating to unionization, so I think it’s a co-mingling of the two issues again,” Peters said.
Some protesters, however, remained suspicious of the claim that the document checks and subsequent terminations were not union-busting tactics.
“This is one of the richest colleges in the country,” Francisco Dueñas PO ’99 told the crowd inside Frary. “And yet today, in order to be able to not pay a few more dollars to their workers, this college is betraying its trust and betraying its morals. This college is selling its soul.”
“We do need to keep on fighting,” Dueñas added. “I think that this is only the beginning, and we’re going to be here until the end.”