On March 16, the Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) presented five administrators or their staff with packages of pillows, sheets, and towels. Attached to the packages were copies of GSC’s recently released list of demands of the university which pertain to treatment of staff and workers, as well as practice of the Just Employment Policy. The package was a reference to the university’s treatment of dining and facilities staff during Winter Storm Jonas in late January.
The event was a part of GSC’s Week of Action, continuing through Friday, in which they seek to pressure administrators to raise the bar in how they interpret and enact the university’s Just Employment Policy. A rallying point for the group was the neglect of workers during Winter Storm Jonas. With the Metro closed, administrators informed dining and facilities employees that they were to make the choice between sleeping on campus and returning home for the next few days without compensation. Though some workers who chose to stay were given rooms and meals in the Georgetown Leavey Hotel or Rosslyn Marriott, others found themselves with nowhere to sleep. “They hand you a trash bag with a blanket, sheet, and pillow,” one employee told the the Voice, “and then they tell you to find a place to stay.”
The goal of the event was to present five administrators, Robin Morey, Christopher Augostini, John DeGioia, Erik Smulson, and Cal Watson, with the same package, attached to a list of demands and accompanied by a short speech. The speech referred to the package of materials as “a reminder that the culture of disrespect is simply considered to be a norm for many workers at this university.”
“In 2005, Georgetown University implemented its much-touted Just Employment Policy, which, in accordance with the University’s claimed Jesuit values, aims to protect and provide workers with the rights they deserve,” the demand sheet reads. “The Just Employment Policy must be expanded and enforced to show that the rhetoric around Jesuit values is more than just a marketing scheme. Failing to do so is a failure to treat workers with the dignity they deserve.”
The first stop for the group, which contained 10-15 undergraduates, was the office of Robin Morey, Vice President of Planning and Facilities Management. Morey had been aware of the conditions of staff during the storm and spoke to campus media about it shortly after. He was out of the office when the group came through, having scheduled back-to-back meetings, according to his assistant. GSC left the package and demands with his staff.
Christopher Augostini, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, was also out of the office. Augostini oversees finance and administration at the university. His staff accepted the package.
On their third stop, GSC was told that University President John DeGioia was similarly out of the office, said to be out of town. In this case, the package and speech were delivered to the President’s Chief of Staff, Joe Ferrara, who came out to receive them on behalf of the President. Ferrara mentioned that he would be sure the President saw the package.
“We appreciate the passion students bring to these issues.” Ferrara told the Voice directly following the event. “These are important issues.”
The final two packages reached their recipients: Erik Smulson (COL ‘89), Vice President of Public Affairs, and Cal Watson, Director of Business Planning and Policy. Watson is also Chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Practices, which oversees the practice of the Just Employment Policy. Smulson, after receiving the package, mentioned that the university will be doing an after-action review of the handling of the snowstorm. While Smulson said he believed there was a lot of good work done by the university during the storm, he said that the university was taking steps to prevent the situation from happening again.
The description and list of demands by GSC occupies a double-sided sheet of paper. Most of the requests are specific actions the university might take to increase accountability, diversity, and dignity in its workplaces. The demands include regular, independent review of the workplace, the maintenance of student jobs through restructuring, the addition of transportation stipends and changing rooms for non-student workers, and the assurance to undergraduate and post-grad employees of the right to organize. Additionally, the document demands a detailed plan for operations in an emergency situation, such as Winter Storm Jonas, that includes paid leave or adequate sleeping accommodations for employees.
Another demand concerns the position of Assistant Vice President of Business Policy and Planning. “From 2007-2011, Lamar Billups served in this role, fearlessly enforcing the Just Employment Policy,” writes GSC. “However, the University dissolved the position after he passed away. It is essential for the new hire to have a strong background in labor organizing. Students and hourly wage workers must oversee the hiring process.”
GSC member Pam Escalante (SFS ’17) delivered the speech that accompanied the packages once more on Healy Lawn. “The Jesuit values within the spirit of Georgetown are not meant to be only soundbites,” Escalante read. “We demand that you see to it that these values are fully manifested in the lives, future contracts, and treatment of contracted and non-contracted workers who work within the gates.”
The group is hoping for a large turnout for their Friday rally. As Escalante read, “We’re committed to continue to bring the failure of the university to live up to it’s values into the public eye, until all members of our community are given the opportunity to work with dignity.”