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March 25, 2023

Pitzer 3, Pomona workers speak at rally before McConnell boycott

The events are the culmination of CSWA's "week of demand" for Pitzer to rehire three workers who were allegedly terminated in retaliation for union support.

Undercurrents staff
Stephanie Smith, one of the three Bon Appetit workers allegedly terminated in retaliation for union support, spoke at the rally Thursday. | Photo by Samson Zhang

Students rallied in front of McConnell Dining Hall on Thursday afternoon in support of the Pitzer 3, three former dining workers that the college and Bon Appetit terminated in alleged retaliation for union support. The rally came the day before CSWA led a student boycott of McConnell Dining Hall as an escalation action to demand that the workers be rehired.

In January and February, UNITE HERE! Local 11 filed two Unfair Labor Practices alleging that Bon Appetit Management Company terminated dining workers Stephanie Smith, Kevin Ayala, and Alexis Ongpoy in retaliation for union support. CSWA has organized seven delegations to Pitzer administrators in protest since then, and this Monday announced a “week of demand” for the workers’ rehiring.

Smith and Ayala spoke about their experiences at Thursday’s rally, as did several student organizers. Two Pomona workers, Benny Aviña and Rubén Rodrigues, also spoke about their experiences of Pomona College’s union-busting during their union drive ten years ago, including the firing of 17 undocumented workers in 2011.

Photo by Samson Zhang

Smith said at the rally that she took a catering job at Pitzer over a full-time offer at Claremont McKenna College because the manager who interviewed her promised that she would get a full-time Pitzer job once the person currently in the position left — but she was terminated instead.

“Not only did [the manager] not give me that full-time position, she hired someone else to take my position…as soon as they saw this [union pin],” Smith said at the rally. “[Then] I got a letter in the mail that said my position was no longer required…but they posted online the same position.”

Smith also recounted how Bon Appetit General Manager Miguel Menjivar discouraged subcontracted workers from supporting the union in a meeting.

“Miguel said, ‘I know y’all are flossing your little pins and wearing your little union garb. Stay in your lane. That’s not your business. That’s Pitzer College employees’ business. You guys are not a part of that,’” Smith said.

Photo by Samson Zhang

Ngaya Swai PZ ‘23 said at the rally that Pitzer’s administrators have been unresponsive to students in previous delegations. CSWA has lead seven delegations to Pitzer administrators since UNITE HERE! filed their last ULP in February.

“How is it that whenever we have a problem, we go to HR, no one’s there and they leave a phone number for us to call — and that phone number is fucking unavailable?”

The boycotts represent an escalation to more direct action against Pitzer, Swai said.

“We are so tired. It’s been 70 fucking days. That’s longer than two months. They still aren’t taking us seriously. And so we’re gonna hit them at one place they actually fucking care: at that dollar sign, at their fucking wallet,” he said.

Photo by Samson Zhang

In his speech, Ayala expressed his gratitude for the support of Claremont students.

“The support has been great. I can see myself working here again, only because of the support that I have,” he told Undercurrents in a post-rally interview.

Rodriguez, a cook at Pomona who was present through the workers’ initial union drive, spoke to the importance of unity between workers and students via translation from Francisco Villaseñor PO ’25.

At an action protesting Pomona’s firing of workers in 2011, 15 people were arrested, including Pomona students, alumni and faculty.

“One of the things that the colleges underestimate is the amount of unity that folks have. The unity that is between the workers, not only here at Pitzer, but also at Pomona, and the unity we have across those fights. It’s through the unity and the support that students [give] that we’re gonna be able to make this college listen to us, to make sure we have that change that we want to see,” Rodriguez said in Spanish.

Photo by Samson Zhang

Villaseñor also urged Claremont students to remain vigilant and participate in actions.

“The college is hoping that we say ‘I have other stuff to worry about’ and that we forget about this fight. But organizing is everyday actions that we take, showing up for one another, showing up and solving that solidarity for each other and having solidarity for the folks that make this place run,” he said.

Swai noted that the Pitzer 3 fight had implications beyond just the three workers and even Pitzer’s campus.

“We’re gonna raise the floor for what it means to live in this city, to live in this area, to live in the Inland Empire, to live in the United States. Because this isn’t an isolated moment.  This is a moment within a larger movement and larger context that can change the world,” he said.

Read more


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Pomona admin met with Claremont Police Chief days before Alexander Hall sit-in to plan intervention, emails show

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