ULV workers strike for new contract, livable wages

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

A dozen University of La Verne dining hall employees staged a one-day walkout protest Tuesday over what they contend are unlivable wages, and are calling for a new contract.

The action follows a March 27 walkout by Whittier College hospitality workers, who like the ULV protestors are also employed by Bon Appétit Management Company. The Whittier College strikers have yet to return to work.

Demonstrators are demanding an increased minimum wage of $25 per hour and for Bon Appétit to contribute $1 for each hour worked to employees’ pension plans. Workers currently have a 401(k) plan in place, but Arun Ramakrishna, an organizer with Unite Here Local 11, the labor union representing ULV and Whittier, said it’s problematic because most of them live paycheck to paycheck and “can’t afford to contribute anything to their 401(k) plan.”

“Most of them are left without a retirement at the end of the day,” Ramakrishna said.

The living wage for a single working adult with one child in Los Angeles County is $43.81 per hour according to MIT’s living wage calculator. About 70% of dining hall workers at ULV – some with decades of experience who fall into that demographic — make about $17 per hour, according to Ramakrishna.

Cora Hammons, a barista at ULV for the last four and a half years who makes about $16.60 per hour, was among the demonstrators on Tuesday pushing for better wages.

“I put 40 hours in [a week] … and it’s not enough,” Hammons said.

Hammons is normally behind the counter taking and making coffee orders, but on a few occasions has worked the grill alongside cooks who get paid about $1.20 more per hour than baristas.

“This is my full-time job. And [management] are not paying me for the work I’m doing,” Hammons said.

Some employees take on multiple jobs to stay afloat.

“Many of our members, to make ends meet, are working two to three jobs, upwards of 70 hours a week,” Ramakrishna said. “People should be able to work one job and pay for all of their bills and needs.” The union organizer also said workers should be able to “retire with dignity.”

The demonstration put into context the burdens of recent inflation hikes and the ever-ballooning cost of living in Southern California.

“The cost of living has risen dramatically and, unfortunately, especially in Southern California where the wages have not increased to a degree that is sufficient for people to meet their needs,” Ramakrishna said. “That’s why workers are making such a big sacrifice to go without pay.”

The push for increased dining hall staff wages began when Pomona College workers walked out during Parents Weekend in October 2022. Those workers successfully negotiated a new contract in January that will push their minimum wage to $25 per hour by 2024, as well as other benefits.

The contract between ULV and Bon Appétit expired in August 2019, according to the La Verne Campus Times. Whittier’s contract with Bon Appétit ran out about eight months ago.

ULV dining workers “don’t have a contract but they continue to work,” Ramakrishna said. “They’ve all been working through the semesters just at an insufficient wage rate.”

Negotiations between Bon Appétit, Unite Here Local 11, and ULV have been ongoing since the contracts ran out, but “There’s been little movement from the company or attempt to negotiate,” Ramakrishna said.


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