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February 23, 2023

Delegations against firing of pro-union Pitzer workers continue at Founder’s Day breakfast

The delegation is the fifth since UNITE HERE! filed a ULP alleging that Pitzer's firing of two workers constituted illegal union-busting behavior.

Samson Zhang, Jacob Ragaza, Eva Nichols, Eli Roggen
Photo by Jacob Neville for Claremont Undercurrents

More than 30 Claremont College students attended Pitzer College’s Founder’s Day community breakfast as part of a CSWA delegation Tuesday morning, protesting the college’s termination of three former pro-union workers.

The delegation was the latest of five organized by students and workers since UNITE HERE! filed an Unfair Labor Practice on Feb. 7 formally alleging that the terminations constituted unlawful union-busting behavior. The ULP itself was the latest of three filed since Pitzer workers voted to unionize last August.

The breakfast began with a speech by Pitzer Interim President Jill Klein commemorating the founding students and faculty of the college on its 60th anniversary, including mentions of the college’s core values.

“Those visions from the 1960s…helped us imagine an interdisciplinary opportunity for learning in the liberal arts [that] is thriving today,” she said in the speech. “I hope that for our students in the room, just like our alums who are here, when you leave Pitzer, you will go out and amplify core values of our college and help us speak to our achievements.”

Most of the members of the delegation were unable to enter due to only Pitzer students being allowed in for the breakfast program. The students who did enter spoke up about the firing of former dining workers Alexis Ongpin, Stephanie Smith and Kevin Ayala after Klein concluded her speech and asked for questions.

“[You talk] about social responsibility, about social justice. Alexis and Kevin were illegally fired for union organizing. Alexis was even forced to use her mother’s disability check to make rent,” Nicholas Lin PZ ’24 said. “Why can Pitzer not even make a comment on the firing of these three workers? And why can’t we rehire them and give them the job that they deserve?”

Photo by Samson Zhang for Claremont Undercurrents

Wyatt Bandy-Page PZ ’25 pointed out the dissonance between the school’s core values and actions, echoing a zine produced by CSWA’s Political Education committee last week.

“We want to talk about core values and community engagement,” said Bandy-Page. “Let’s look right at you and let’s think. Why are these workers…when they show support for the union, are they fired, placed on do not hire lists?”

Bandy-Page also expressed demands for administrators to meaningfully act on the ULPs.

“There’s no communication besides flowery worded emails about how you’re doing your best,” he said. “We want concrete steps on what is being done with the ULPs. We want concrete steps on how your dining hall is being managed ethically and legally. And we need more than just smiles and cocktails.”

To Bandy-Page’s comment, Klein responded “thank you, please enjoy breakfast,” before discussing the day’s programming and turning her back on the audience.

“Can you respond to our questions? These are real lived experience of individuals who cannot be just fired on a whim. To just brush us off shows just how disconnected you are,” said Cameron Quijada SC ’25.

Students also handed out printed copies of the ULPs to parents and alumni in the room.

Unlike previous delegations, this delegation was meant to give more room to “start a conversation,” said Will Warrick PZ ’24.

“While we weren’t actually able to get any sort of response [from Klein]…we were still able to have those conversations with alums and to represent to the workers…that students are there in support of them and that we will keep being in support of them until [Ongpin, Smith and Ayala] are back,” Warrick said.

The delegation attracted the attention of several school alumni, who expressed their support to Warrick, he said.

“We had a couple of alumni from the sixties come up to us and basically say, ‘We support you guys in what you’re doing here. The way you’ve framed this and the way you the way you’ve organized in here has really been tremendous, and you’ve been very on point with everything you’ve been saying,’” Warrick said.

CSWA will use the momentum from the delegation to continue gathering community support for the re-hiring of the workers, according to its leaders. The next steps are to “keep escalating” with larger delegations and a broader support base, Warrick said.

Aside from reaching out to students, CSWA has organized meetings between workers and Pitzer faculty members to eventually “build up that community base that the admin really can’t turn away from,” Lin said.

Jacob Neville and Nina Ariany contributed reporting.

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Thanks for reading Undercurrents

Undercurrents reports on labor, Palestine liberation, prison abolition and other community organizing at and around the Claremont Colleges.

Issue 1 / Spring 2023

Setting the Standard

How Pomona workers won a historic $25 minimum wage; a new union in Claremont; Tony Hoang on organizing

Read issue 1