By Christopher Salazar
Alexis Ongpoy (left), Kevin Ayala Leon (middle) and Stephanie Smith (right) express their grievances to Pitzer College administrators. Photo by Christopher Salazar.
Pitzer College and the Bon Appetit Management Company have come under fire after three Bon Appetit employees were alleged to be unlawfully terminated or otherwise discriminated against. The incident ignited student enmity and prompted the union Unite HERE! Local 11 to file an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Tuesday Feb. 7.
Following the ULP filing, a large group of students led by the Claremont Student Workers Alliance (CSWA) marched to express their grievances to Pitzer administrators and to stand in solidarity with Stephanie Smith, Kevin Ayala Leon and Alexis Ongpoy.
The incident follows a heated unionization battle between Pitzer College and dining hall staff that occurred last summer. While the dining staff successfully unionized, Bon Appetit employers are currently exempt.
“I’m here because I was terminated,” Smith said. “And I don’t think that’s right. They promised me 40 hours a week, OK, if I was catering or in the kitchen – I get 40 hours.”
Smith, a retiree, explained that she expected to work full time after Richard, a former coworker, left. However, she remained a part-time employee. Again following the departure of another coworker, Smith expected to work full time. Except she was let go just before the holiday season.
“What happened here?” Smith said. “I started to support the union.”
To Smith, there is a direct correlation between union support and unlawful termination.
“Anthony didn’t support the union and he’s still there,” Smith said. “Kevin did. Alexis did. I did. We’re all gone.”
Unlike Smith, however, Ongpoy is not retired. And she relies on the income she receives from Bon Appetit.
“The first just passed and I didn’t have any money to pay rent,” Ongpoy said as she clarified that she received less paid time off for the holidays than she was told. “And I had to use my mother’s disability for rent and my bills.”
According to Smith and Ongpoy, Bon Appetit management said they would receive four days of holiday pay for Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve and New Years. While Ongpoy received holiday pay for two days, Leon received none despite exceeding the probationary period.
“I was three months and I didn’t get it,” Leon said.
After three months, Bon Appetit employees are no longer considered “on call,” and are due their holiday pay Smith explained.
In addition to the issues surrounding holiday pay, Leon explained that he received a termination letter after calling in sick.
“My last day I called-in because I was sick,” Leon said. “I was told that I could use my sick pay hours if I had a doctor’s note and I showed them my doctor’s note and then I was terminated, basically. But I wasn’t notified until a month after.
“So, I didn’t have a job for that whole time but they didn’t mention it until Jan. 10.”
Leon was unaware that he was no longer an employee until he received a notification in the mail. Both Smith and Leon received the same termination letter on Jan. 10.
After students disbanded, The Outback approached a Pitzer College administrator for comment. The administrator requested to remain unnamed and denied to comment at the time, but stated there was a possibility for a future comment over email.