At a civil disobedience action protesting yesterday’s firing of 17 Pomona dining hall workers, 15 workers, students, professors and alumni were arrested by the Claremont Police Department after blocking College Avenue this morning. Eighty-four students, faculty, and staff employed by Pomona College were notified of discrepancies in their work documentation (specifically I-9 forms) on November 7 and were given until 5 p.m. yesterday, December 1, to address the issues. Seventeen workers could not meet the deadline and were subsequently fired.
The protest of roughly 150-200 people started this morning with a sit-in in Frary Dining Hall, already the focus of a continued boycott since Wednesday of this week. Natty Spielberg PO ‘12, who participated in the protest, explained: “Workers and students marched into Frary. The workers who were fired marched at the front, demanding to work. They were turned away by Camp Sec and managers.” By all accounts, the protest inside Frary was peaceful, no damage was done to any property, and no protesters entered the kitchen.
In Frary, college officials declined the protesters’ request to have 17 protesters arrested, on the grounds that the protesters were peaceful. The protesters subsequently moved to Alexander Hall, Pomona College’s primary administration building. Alexander Hall is also the site of a round-the-clock vigil organized by the Concerned Students of Pomona College, seeking to generate dialogue about the current documentation issues.
Following negotiations with Claremont Police Department officers at the scene, 15 protesters briefly blocked traffic on College Avenue in front of Alexander and were subsequently arrested. According to Robin Rodriguez, an organizing director with UNITE-HERE Local 11, who was at the Claremont Police Department, the arrestees included Pitzer College professor Jose Calderon, five alumni, five students, and four UNITE-HERE Local 11 members. The full list is located at the end of this article.
As of 2:50 p.m. Friday, some of the protesters had already been released, one by one, and the rest were expected to be released shortly, according to Rodriguez. They were charged with Refusal to Disperse, she said.
President David Oxtoby, when asked to comment on the arrests, said, “I wasn’t there to see them [the arrests] directly.” “We declined to arrest the protesters in the dining hall,” he said, echoing an email by Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum to the Pomona College community.
Like the boycott, the protest was organized by Workers for Justice and included workers and organizers from UNITE-HERE standing in solidarity. Workers for Justice is an independent group working for unionization at Pomona College. Protesters were also present that were not affiliated with either group.
According to Leigh Shelton, a spokesperson for UNITE HERE Local 11, “There were workers from LMU, some hotel workers. Workers with a union and some without a union.” “It’s all one fight, the workers understand that, that’s why they were there in support of the unjustly fired Pomona workers,” she said.
The arrests only add to existing controversy surrounding workers at Pomona College, who began unionization efforts on March 1, 2010. Pomona’s administration has consistently denied any connection between the recent document checks and the unionization process. (Click here for a summary of unionization efforts from the administration’s perspective.)
“The tactic that Pomona has implemented is not unusual. We’ve seen it before,” said Shelton. “It’s not uncommon for an employer to take a keener interest in worker’s documentation when they’re trying to form a union.”
Most of the workers’ efforts thus far have been dedicated to securing a free election to form an independent labor union. The night before the deadline, a Frary dining hall worker spoke to the Concerned Students at the Alexander Vigil. He said, “I’ve been doing this for two years asking for simple things, just a voting process. And they still haven’t given it to us. How long are you going to be out here [camping]? A year? Two years? Maybe longer? I hope not.”
Support for the workers and affiliated students has poured in from all corners of campus, from students to faculty. Workers for Justice, the Concerned Students and others have all expressed a continued commitment to work for workers’ rights (not only in the context of unionization). In concluding his remarks to the Concerned Students at the Alexander Vigil, the aforementioned worker said: “Keep on fighting and we’re gonna keep on fighting.”
Isabel Juarez, Pomona ‘13
Davis Saul, Pomona ‘14
Spencer Johnson, Pomona ‘14
Karen Castro-Ayala, Scripps ‘14
Anthony Fuentes, Pitzer ‘12
Jose Calderon, Pitzer faculty
Noel Rodriguez, Pomona ‘89
Francisco Covarrubias, Pomona ‘10
Francisco Dueñas, Pomona ‘99
Katherine Duberg, Pomona ‘09
Paul Waters-Smith, Pitzer ‘10
Christopher Novoa, UNITE-HERE Local 11 member
Allen Hernandez, UNITE-HERE Local 11 member
Sean Glynn, UNITE-HERE Local 11 member
Alyssa Giachiano, UNITE-HERE Local 11 member