Wages and unions: Living Wage revival

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March 2, 2006

Georgetown officials met with the Living Wage Coalition Wednesday and announced they are not blocking subcontracted workers’ rights to unionize. The decision lifts a perceived hurdle to the organization of labor at Georgetown.

“Any of our contractors are free to adopt a card-check [unionization] process if they decide to do so,” University spokesperson Erik Smulson said.

Card-check is a method that speeds up and simplifies unionization, decreasing the possibility for involved workers to be harassed into abandoning their efforts in unionizing, Shalini Thomas (SFS ‘08) of the LWC said.

Under the card-check policy, the Service Employees International Union would recognize that a majority of P&R employees had signed union cards, and with the approval of the company, would admit them into the union, Thomas said.

According to a Feb. 24 LWC press release, P&R, the university’s subcontractor, claimed only the Georgetown administration was blocking the card-check process. The university’s decision of neutrality, however, removes significant barriers against worker unionization.

“If P&R’s being truthful, there’s no reason why the [unionization] process shouldn’t get started right away,” Thomas said.

If unionized, workers will gain bargaining power for wage increases and health and vacation benefits. However, such changes could require the employing company to take on more costs.

At the Wednesday meeting of the Advisory Committee on Business Practices, university officials also presented a breakdown of the wages of the lowest-paid worker, numbers the LWC has been requesting since September.

LWC members said they still want to see the University make changes.

“Our demands are that the University follow through with all of the terms of the Just Employment Policy that they agreed to last spring,” Thomas said. “It needs to get done by March 14.”

The University claims that they have already met these demands.

“Georgetown University is fully implementing the Just Employment Policy and subcontracted workers are now receiving a total minimum compensation of at least $13 per hour—this includes hourly salary plus benefits,” Smulson said.

The University agreed to the Just Employment Policy, which guarantees campus workers a living wage and an intimidation-free atmosphere in which they may unionize, after the LWC’s hunger strike, last spring.

The LWC claims that Georgetown has improved wage parity but still has not created a harassment-free environment.

“We believe that the workers have been intimidated,” Thomas said.

One P&R worker explained how his working environment has changed since the workers began to demand unionization.

“P&R don’t like it [that we want to unionize]. They’ve been coming in buildings, checking on us more often,” he said on conditions of anonymity for fear of reprisal from P&R.

The LWC would not comment on whether they would repeat their hunger strike if the University did not meet their deadline.

“If they want it to happen, it will, even thought there’s a bureaucracy,” Thomas said. “They have two weeks.”

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