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March 22, 2023

“It’s a very simple demand”: CSWA escalates actions, calls for rehiring of the Pitzer 3 by Friday

After delegations facing slammed doors and admin hostility, CSWA to host Thursday rally, Friday disruptive action

Samson Zhang, Nina Ariany
Collage of "week of demand" flyers created by the Claremont Student Worker Alliance

With two sets of student delegations Monday and Tuesday, CSWA launched a “week of demand” for Pitzer to rehire the “Pitzer Three” — three former Bon Appetit Management Company (BAMCO) workers for Pitzer dining halls terminated in January 2023, allegedly in retaliation for showing union support — by the end of the week.

Student organizers also announced plans to host a rally in front of McConnell dining hall on Thursday afternoon and escalate to more disruptive actions if Pitzer does not respond by Friday. The decision to create a timed “pressure point” comes after two months of delegations that, after initial success drawing administrators’ attention to the issue, stalled when President Jill Klein released a statement claiming that Pitzer had no “involvement nor authority” in the employment of their subcontractors.

Flyer produced by Claremont Student Worker Alliance

Kevin Ayala and Alexis Ongpoy, former dining workers, and Stephanie Smith, a former barista at the Pit Stop, started showing support for Pitzer workers’ union leading up to last December’s decertification vote. Bon Appetit and Pitzer College retaliated against all three workers by denying them work and promised benefits, UNITE HERE! Local 11, the union that has represented Pitzer dining and custodial workers since last August, alleged in a series of legal complaints.

Then, Ayala and Smith received termination letters during winter break. Ongpoy returned in January for her 9 AM shift only to learn without prior notice that she, too, had lost her job.

The unexpected terminations took a toll on the workers. Smith takes care of three grandchildren, while Ongpoy had to use her terminally ill mother’s disability benefits to pay for rent, they said at a delegation to Vice President Jim Marchant on Feb. 7.

Before this week, students had led five delegations protesting the workers’ terminations, including a disruption of the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 9 that led to a public statement from the board’s chair “[acknowleding] the concerns expressed.”

But progress seemed to stall after Klein released a statement on March 1 claiming that the college had no responsibility for the situation because the Ayala, Smith and Ongpoy were subcontracted through BAMCO rather than hired directly.

“The ULP relates to employees of our Dining contractor. The College has neither involvement nor authority in non-Pitzer staff employment matters,” Klein said in the statement.

Student organizers said that Klein’s statement was an attempt to deflect due responsibility.

“[Pitzer] are literally the ones who called for the subcontracting. They have responsibility to tell the people that they’re literally hiring to stop breaking the law and like performing anti-union actions,” Elena Hockensmith PZ ’24 told Undercurrents.

Hocksmith also pointed out that even if the three workers were previously subcontracted, Pitzer has the ability to address their terminations by re-hiring them directly.

“Pitzer does have the full ability to meet the demand of rehiring the workers as full-time Pitzer employees,” Hockensmith said.

While administrators often met previous delegations with polite conversation and assurances that “we’re listening” or “we take these concerns seriously,” the tone this week was noticeably more hostile, delegation members said.

Around 20 students showed up each day, attempting to deliver a letter of demand signed by over 900 students, workers and faculty to Klein, Marchant, Bon Appetit General Manager Miguel Menjivar and members of Pitzer’s Human Resources office.

When students approached Klein’s office on Tuesday, she ignored them, entered an inner room and closed the door, delegation members said. The delegation members attempted to speak to her from outside the office, eventually taping the letter to the door.

Marchant nearly clipped the fingers of a student when he slammed his office door shut after the student attempted to hand him the letter. Menjivar turned around to make a phone call after students attempted to talk to him in McConnell Dining Hall on Tuesday, telling students “I’m not taking that from you” when repeatedly offered the letter.

The administrators’ non-responsiveness to delegations left organizers with “no option” but to escalate to more disruptive actions, Alex Pedroza HM ’25 said.

“The responses, whether it was yesterday’s slamming of doors or today’s kicking us out of McConnell, not giving us a time of day even, I think goes to show how little they respect student mobilization to help and advocate for the workers and fundamentally members of the community,” Pedroza said.

Hockensmith said they anticipate that Pitzer will continue to respond with hostility as actions escalate.

“Today was aggressive, so, I can only imagine if we cause a real disruption, what [Pitzer’s] response will be. But that’s kind of the point,” Hockensmith said. “It’s a very simple demand…you guys are responsible. You have a very clear choice.”

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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