After a year of protracted negotiations, representatives of the Georgetown Dining Services union, Unite Here!, and University food services provider Aramark have agreed on a three-year contract. The settlement provides several of the union’s key demands, including a 50-cent per-year pay raise, a forty-hour work week, year-round health insurance, and a $200 signing bonus.
“This was a huge milestone, because this is as much a step forward in the process of unionization as the actual recognition of the union was,” said Sam Geaney-Moore (SFS ’12), a member of Georgetown Solidarity, the student group that helped begin the workers’ unionization efforts over a year ago.
Unite Here! members said the negotiations were slow to get off the ground, with health insurance proving a particularly contentious issue.
“It seemed to me like the company wasn’t trying to give us anything,” Tarshae Smith, a union member who works at Leo O’Donovan Dining Hall, said. “With everything we asked for in the beginning, they wouldn’t meet us halfway. They just said that the company didn’t have any money.”
After half a year of protracted negotiations, Aramark representatives all but terminated negotiations after a meeting in late December. “The word they used was that we were at an impasse,” said Smith. “What they were going to give us was what was on the table—there would be no more discussion.”
Both parties left the negotiating table with no further plans to meet. However, negotiations promptly resumed after workers and student organizers staged a demonstration during the lunch rush hour in Leo’s on Jan. 26.
Donte Crestwell, another Leo’s worker, described the demonstration as “powerful.”
“It let them know that we were still together, and things were going to have to change on campus, and students were with us,” he said. The demonstration coincided with Aramark executives’ visit to campus, and they were at Leo’s to watch the workers chant, “What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now!”
According to Smith, after months of silence, “that same day that we came together in Leo’s, that same day they called and said they wanted to meet with the committee.”
Smith and Crestwell said the contract, which is pending ratification by union members, included most of the workers’ goals. However, Smith said she hoped for a more comprehensive contract when the parties convene in three years to renegotiate.
Smith hoped to see a pension plan and a better 401(k) option in the new contract. “I look at it like it’s our first house: it’s not our dream home, but it’s a house,” Smith said. Still, she said, “we came a long way.”