Workers, students discuss experiences at GSC “Work with Dignity” rally

Workers, students discuss experiences at GSC “Work with Dignity” rally

By:
03/22/2016

Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) staged a rally in Red Square on Friday, March 18 to gain support for their Work with Dignity Campaign and demands. The rally, which was attended by more than 30 people, featured student speakers as well as campus dining and facilities staff. The goal of the ongoing campaign is to pressure the Georgetown administration into expanding and strengthening their Just Employment Policy, which protects both student and non-student workers.

GSC’s Work with Dignity campaign was officially launched on March 15, and continued with a week of action. The group used the rally to spread awareness of their demands, which they believe will help address the “culture of disrespect” encountered by campus employees. “We think Georgetown could do a better job of living up to the high ideals that it espouses for workers,” said GSC member Cassidy Jensen (COL ’18) during her speech at the event. [Full disclosure: Jensen is a Voice staffer.] “Georgetown has a Just Employment Policy that was implemented around 10 years ago that is supposed to guarantee workers just working conditions. We think that Georgetown can do better.”

The rally featured two unionized members of the Georgetown University staff who spoke about their workplace experiences. Clarence Wesley, a facilities management worker, described ongoing problems between the department’s supervisors and employees. “I have been retaliated against for speaking out about discrimination,” he said. “I was put on administrative leave as a result of retaliation. And when I came back from administrative leave, I was given an extra building. Now I have five buildings. Most people take care of one or two.”

Robin Morey, Vice President of Planning and Facilities Management, declined to comment on the case. “The University values the contributions of everyone on our Planning and Facilities Management team. I cannot, however, comment on individual personnel matters,” he wrote in an email to the Voice.

Josh Armstead, a general utility worker at Leo’s for the past three years, emphasized during his speech that workers in different departments must stand together. “If it can happen to [one worker], it can happen to us,” he said.

Speakers also discussed the university’s handling of Winter Storm Jonas in January, when workers who chose to remain on campus faced a lack of sleeping space. Though some were put up in the Georgetown Leavey Hotel or the Rosslyn Marriott, others found themselves on cots or the floors of buildings. The university offered no paid alternative.

Following the non-student workers, Pam Escalante (SFS ’17) described the experience of being an Residential Assistant (RA). “Being an RA is one of the most rewarding jobs that the university has to offer,” Escalante said, while also emphasizing the challenge facing RAs in making financially informed decisions. “The FAFSA decisions don’t come out until about June. The application to be an RA comes out in January. And you’re expected to accept or reject your position by February… If you’re not receiving any financial aid from Georgetown University, you might see the full 15 grand drop for housing and room and board. However, if you are receiving a lot of financial aid from Georgetown University, you may not get those complete benefits, the complete 15 grand.”

Jensen outlined the group’s most important demands of the university. “Some of the things we’d like to see on campus are better staffing and hiring practices for facilities workers,” she said. “We want to stop discrimination against Latino and Latina workers. We want to make sure student workers have more rights so they can control more aspects of their pay and benefits.” Her speech also called for a new emergency plan for a situation such as Winter Storm Jonas.

Though Jensen and GSC member Joseph Gomez believe that the demands were reasonable and predicted a university response, others were less convinced. Wesley suggested that while the demands might get attention, the university might not accept them fully. “We have our demands,” he said, “but we’re always willing to talk, negotiate, and compromise.”

Attendee Mackenzie Foy (COL ’19) thought the rally was a success, citing the music and high energy, but did not believe the university would respond to its demands. “When you have student activism, it’s not only one rally that does it,” she said. “I hope that if there’s continuous energy like this that eventually they’ll respond.”

At the rally, GSC collected Post-It notes from the crowd with answers to the question “Why should GU care about workers?” After placing the notes on a board, the crowd carried the answers to the second floor of Healy Hall to place in the hallway of President DeGioia’s office. “All of our voices matter,” Wesley said to the rally. “Everyone has the right step forward. Everyone has the right to express their concerns.”

About Author

Lilah Burke Lilah Burke is the executive news editor of the Georgetown Voice. She is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.


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