The illegal-immigration debate is on fire at Pomona College in far-east L.A. County.
"You'd think that if any place was going to be a safe haven for immigrants, it would be at colleges and universities," says Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College in L.A. proper. "But that doesn't seem to be the case at Pomona College. They've joined in that wave of anti-immigrant hysteria."
Dreier serves as a talking head in a new mini-documentary about the controversy produced by labor union Unite Here Local 11...
... which represents workers at Pomona. Here's why the union is so angry, from its original news release in early December:
Unprovoked by any federal agency, Pomona College fired today 16 dining hall workers who did not re-verify their eligibility to work. Several of those terminated had worked at Pomona College for 10 to 20 years.
The union's suspicion is that, when the Pomona College Board of Trustees issued a letter to dozens of employees in November demanding that they show proof of citizenship, the board was trying to drown out a larger protest for better wages.
"The decision came in the midst of a union drive that has been opposed by the administration," says a union narrator in the video. And, perhaps to rope Occupy Wall Street into the fight, the union also points out that Pomona College's board is "led by Goldman Sachs executive Paul Efron" -- who's pretty much as 1-percent as they come.
The college's president, David W. Oxtoby, tells The New York Times a different story.
Dr. Oxtoby said the board of trustees received a "specific, credible complaint" from an employee in early 2011 about the college's hiring policies and moved to investigate the accusations.
For months, officials said, lawyers from the law firm Sidley Austin combed through the university's records and met with administrators. By the time the investigation was complete, the law firm had identified deficiencies in the files of 84 employees, including dining hall and maintenance workers as well as professors and students working for the college. Each employee received the same letter asking for documents to re-verify their work status. Of the 17 employees who ultimately lost their jobs, 16 were dining hall workers.
Hard to believe that the administration was so blissfully unaware of its workers' status for the last decade-plus, but so go the "Don't ask, don't tell" hiring practices enjoyed by so many California employers (who then feign shock upon the big REVEAL).
U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu jumps to the front lines of the union side, saying the fired workers "put their sweat, blood and tears into this college, and they deserve better."
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According to the Times, that nasty debate has spread far outside admin-union negotiations:
The renewed discussion over immigration and low-wage workers has animated class discussions, late-night dorm conversations and furious back and forth on alumni e-mail lists. Some alumni are now refusing to donate to the college, while some students are considering discouraging prospective freshmen from enrolling.
Looks like some sheltered kids at a private school in manicured Claremont might actually get an education after all.