Georgetown students may dislike the Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall, with its mediocre food, limited space, and exorbitant meal plan prices. For the people employed at the dining hall by Aramark, a large foodservice company, the experience is even worse. Workers report having their hours randomly reduced, and they work for meager pay and benefits under disrespectful managers. Such treatment of workers is unacceptable and it is commendable that Leo’s workers have decided to fight back against their poor treatment by forming a union. Their efforts deserve the support of the entire Georgetown community.
Leo’s has been run by Aramark since 2007, and workers report experiencing mistreatment from the beginning. Four years later, workers are responding to Aramark’s injustice in the best way possible. By unionizing, workers will be able to negotiate for better compensation and more affordable health-care options. Managers will no longer be able to treat employees disrespectfully without fear of repercussions. Unionization does not come without risks, but so far, workers and their supporters have managed the process responsibly, approaching other workers cautiously and making sure unionization is the will of the majority of workers.
It is not clear that Aramark, which has a poor record of labor relations, will approach the unionization process as responsibly. In the past several years, unionized Aramark workers in both Boston and Philadelphia have filed grievances against the company with the National Labor Relations Board, with the workers in Boston claiming that the corporation had intimidated and fired workers involved in union activity. Going forward, Aramark has ample ability to determine how negotiations develop. The company ought to refrain from any antagonistic practices and, either through an election free of worker intimidation or through a card-check neutrality agreement, recognize that union.
Georgetown students, teachers, and administrators can be powerful advocates for the Aramark employees. GUSA should pass a resolution expressing student solidarity with Leo’s workers and other student groups should join organizations like Georgetown Solidarity Committee and the GU College Democrats in openly supporting the workers. Administrators need to make clear that Aramark’s future at Georgetown depends on the way they treat their workers. University officials deserve praise for their letter to Aramark calling attention to the University’s Just Employment Policy—which requires companies on campus to respect workers’ rights—and stressing that Aramark must deal fairly with their workers. Administrators should continue to send the clear message that the University expects Aramark to allow its workers to unionize.
Both in its treatment of workers at Georgetown and in its dealings with workers in other states, Aramark’s labor relations have often been marked by negligence and exploitation. By joining together, Leo’s workers have taken the first step toward ending their unjust treatment. But success may not come without a fight, and workers need a coalition of student groups, teachers, and administrators ready to advocate on their behalf.