At the Claremont Colleges, students are educated on the issues of exploitation that exist all over the world. But, as recent protests have revealed, these issues are closer to home than students may have realized. Over the years, there have been several instances of exploitation of staff members who work at the 5C’s. Afraid to directly approach the administration, staff members turned to those with whom they have daily interactions: the students. At Pomona College, students have reacted in a substantial way with the implementation of the Workers’ Support Committee. The Workers’ Support Committee is an organization that strives to keep the student body informed on issues concerning staff members and construct a positive relationship between staff and administration in order to enable future progress. Students created the Workers’ Support Committee in response to the actions that Pomona’s administration has taken regarding its employees. The committee works with staff members and meets one-on-one with administration to address key issues such as cutting work hours and laying off staffers. Last year the committee began the “Stand With Staff” campaign to boycott the Pomona dining halls after dining hall staff members’ hours were cut over the summer.
On Oct. 9, a rally was organized in reaction to an e-mail that Pomona President David Oxtoby sent to the student body regarding job cuts for housekeepers. These two demonstrations occurred after staff members approached the committee, asking for help in a shared effort to emphasize the need for change in how workers’ jobs are handled.
The Workers’ Support Committee, which meets weekly, consists of about 30 students. Though the organization is open to students at all 5C’s, almost all of the committee members attend Pomona. The committee addresses Pomona-specific issues, and works toward educating students on the structural problems that exist within the work system at the college. The committee gathers its strength from outside participation; when students get involved in demonstrations, inform their friends on the issues or even just form relationships with staff members, the Workers’ Support Committee is gathering strength.
Members of the Workers’ Support Committee visited individual dorms to discuss the changes that were made in housekeeping staff over the summer. Articles about the committee have already been published in The Student Life and The Claremont Progressive, further bolstering the committee’s presence on campus. “We’re going to do whatever keeps conversations going,” said committee member Sam Gordon (PO ‘11). General student involvement is important to the committee, since it shows the Pomona administration what is a priority on its campus.
Even more important than creating a campus-wide presence is the fostering of a non-politicized environment where staff members feel safe to share their frustration with students. The committee takes action when a staff member approaches it; it is continuously working toward a structural revamping in which staff members are comfortable enough to address the administration on its own. Said Gordon, “We want things to work out so that we don’t have to exist anymore.”
The current relationship between staff members and administration is too unbalanced to allow for issues to pass by without student intervention. This puts the committee in a difficult transitional stage, where its present goal is to diminish the wall of communication between staff members and the administration altogether.
In its work toward a more equal standing with the administration, the Workers’ Support Committee aspires to have as little on its agenda as possible. But, for now, its agenda is filled and its voice—with the help of interested students—is ever-present on campus. The ideologies that go into the committee are enough to inspire any student to take a look around her own community and open her eyes to the issues around her.