Aramark is “union strong,” negotiations underway

By:
09/15/2011

On Tuesday night, the Kalmonovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor hosted “We Are One Georgetown,” a victory event celebrating campus food service provider Aramark’s employees’ successful unionization efforts. The first stage of negotiations between the union, called Unite Here, and Aramark, one of the largest food service providers in the United States, began over the summer and will continue into the fall, with union workers hoping to come away with a new contract that emphasizes fair wages and affordable health care.

After joining Unite Here last March, Aramark employees at Georgetown have already worked with Unite Here to facilitate the re-hiring of wrongfully terminated workers and to enact a system of seniority that allows for more days off.

Cathy Anderson, a food service worker for 36 years and a Georgetown employee for 29 years, said that the unionization movement is a source of strength and unity for Leo’s workers.

“You know the saying, we’re Army strong? Well, we’re union strong,” she said.

Anderson said she has already begun to see changes in the way employees are treated.

“We really got tired of being treated like we were nothing,” she said. “We came together and started standing up for one another.”

Andrew Lindquist, director of Leo’s food services, was unwilling to comment on the specifics of the negotiations, but wrote in an email that both sides “continue to bargain in good faith and hope to reach an agreement soon.”

Sam Geaney-Moore (SFS ’12), a senior member of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, was instrumental in getting the unionization effort off the ground.

“One of my biggest hopes through this entire process was building more relationships between workers and students,” Geaney-Moore said. “Workers are an essential part of our Georgetown community, and you know, this event is a great symbol … of being a part of a community.”

The Kalmanovitz Initiative, a Georgetown-run research institution that studies labor and economic equality in America, hosted the panel as part of its year-long focus on the future of collective bargaining in the United States.

Joseph McCartin, the institute’s executive director, was enthusiastic about Tuesday’s panel, claiming that the collaborative efforts helped cement victory for the workers despite the numerous attacks on collective bargaining nationwide.

“We thought the best way to start [this year’s events]is to begin at home and look at events close to home,” he said.

Also represented on the panel were the Georgetown College Democrats, whose president, Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13), was involved in the movement’s initial stages. Kohnert-Yount said that the College Democrats’ involvement was not based on political ideology.

“As members of this community, we just felt that it was the right thing to do,” she said. “There’s a lot of justice to be sought in our own community, and all members should be valued. Just see how strong we can be when we band together in a coalition like this.”

Dr. Michael Kazin, a professor in Georgetown’s History Department, believes that while the movement toward unionization may not have been welcomed elsewhere, it was the social context of Georgetown that made it all possible. A student activist in the 1960s, Kazin was one of the first professors to support the Leo’s workers.

“I think it was very important that the movement involved the whole community and not just the workers,” he said. “When labor has been on a downward spiral for 30 or 40 years, I think it’s going to take a mighty effort to revive it again. … I think that it was very impressive how they organized, making connections between students, faculty members and individual workers off campus.”

As negotiations progress through the school year, the prevailing attitude seems to be one of gratefulness on behalf of both students and workers.

“I give thanks to God for all the help we received from alumni, professors, students, Jesuits, for all the support from everybody,” Don Felipe Ortiz, a Leo’s dishwasher, said.

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