Pomona College inks labor deal with food service workers

Dining hall workers at Pomona College held a walkout in October during negotiations for a new contract, which included calls for higher wages. Last week the College and the workers’ union inked a deal to increase pay to $25 per hour by July 2024. Photo/courtesy Unite Here Local 11

Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Pomona College and the labor union Unite Here Local 11 have reached a contract agreement for the college’s dining hall and catering staff.

In a joint news release the organizations said they penned a four-year collective bargaining agreement on January 18 that would bring all the college’s food service workers to a minimum $25-per-hour wage. The employees overwhelmingly ratified the agreement in a union vote.

“We are pleased to move forward with an agreement that recognizes the excellence and dedication of the dining and catering employees represented by UNITE HERE Local 11,” read the news release. “The agreement provides substantial wage increases and, for the first time, the College also will make contributions to the union’s Legal Services Fund and Hospitality Industry Training and Education Fund.”

Last fall 90% of Pomona’s dining hall workers authorized a walkout, which took place on October 28, coinciding with family day at the college.

The workers’ primary contract demand was a significant raise to keep pace with the soaring cost of living in Southern California. A living wage for a family of four with two working adults in Los Angeles County is $30.73 an hour. Yet some dining hall employees, the overwhelmingly majority of whom are people of color, earn $18 an hour, according to Unite Here.

“I am on strike because I deserve to provide for my family, the same way I care for Pomona’s wonderful students,” Marie O’Campo, said in October. “As a skilled worker at Pomona College, my profession contributes to the health and wellness of the students and the college’s overall success.”

During a September 30 contract negotiation meeting, Pomona College officials offered an increase of $5.40 over four years, but the workers were seeking an increase of $8.80 to round up to a $28 hourly wage by next year, according to The Student Life.

The contract ratified last week has a lower top wage than the workers asked for in September, but will be fully implemented earlier than the college’s proposal. Roughly 100 people received the pay increase, including an immediate raise of $2.50 per hour, which will be retroactive to July 1, 2022. They will get a $1.75 increase this coming July and another $1.75 the following July until all have reached the negotiated minimum.

“It’s a great settlement,” said Noel Rodríguez, organizing director with Unite Here Local 11.

Rodríguez said in 18 months the average worker will see a $6 per hour pay increase and by next July everyone will be at $25 an hour, and some staff will receive up to $30 an hour.

“It’s game changing and sets a new standard for food service, not just in Claremont and the Inland Empire, but all of Sothern California,” Rodríguez said.

And this may just be the beginning for workers at the Claremont Colleges; Pitzer College dining hall employees voted to unionize late last year. Rodríguez said he hopes to bring the standard established at Pomona to the Pitzer employees, whom he characterized as having even lower starting wages. The food service workers at University of La Verne and Whittier College are organizing behind Unite Here as well.

Pomona College’s $3 billion endowment is the seventh highest on a per student basis among all U.S. universities and colleges — ahead of Yale and Wesleyan. However, those colleges pay dining hall employees $30 per hour, according to the union.

“The agreement offers the stability of a multi-year contract to support Local 11 members and their families in making strong wage gains in the face of rising costs of living in our region,” read the joint news release. “Coming after nearly six months of negotiations, the agreement shows the commitment of both parties to work through the collective bargaining process for the benefit of UNITE HERE Local 11 members and the entire college community.”

Unite Here Local 11 represents more than 32,000 hospitality workers in Southern California and Arizona who work in hotels, restaurants, universities, convention centers, and airports.


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