Epicurean owner responds to solidarity committee petition

December 5, 2013

Ambika Ahuja

In a Nov. 18 letter addressed to the “Students of Georgetown,” Chang Wook Chon, owner of Epicurean restaurant, responded to the Nov.11 petition presented to him by Georgetown Solidarity Committee, GUSA, and the Georgetown chapter of the NAACP. In the letter Chon claims to have addressed the concerns of the petition, such as alleged wage theft and employee abuse, prior to its presentation.

“I have complied with every request by the Assistant Vice President of Auxiliary Services,” Chon wrote.

The petition, which over 500 students signed, expressed “great concern regarding allegations of wage theft, intimidation, and the mistreatment of immigrant workers at Epicurean” and called Chon to reaffirm his commitment to the Just Employment Policy. In an interview with the Voice on Nov. 12, GSC member Chris Wager (SFS ‘17) added, “We want the University to require random wage audits from Epicurean, … go in and interview the workers, … and be required to provide Just Employment training.”

Joelle Wiese, associate vice president for auxiliary business services, explained in an interview with the Voice that the University was already enforcing and monitoring JEP at Epicurean. “There hasn’t been anything in particular that we changed [in our plans] relative to the petition,” she said.

For instance, according to Wiese, Georgetown has been conducting wage audits since last summer. “That’s something we can do on any of the contractors anytime we want to because [JEP is] included in the contract language,” she said.

GSC, however, disputed the effectiveness of the audits.

“The Advisory Committee on Business Practices sent a letter to Mr. Chon asking for the wages that he was paying the workers,” said GSC member Devika Ranjan (SFS ‘17). “In response, the ACBP got a letter stating the rates per hour that was very vague. [Chon] was asked to provide documentation again. With his response, he didn’t send back an hour sheet, which would have included [information] about overtime, which is the big issue here.”

In an interview with the Voice, Chon expressed confusion about GSC’s concerns over Georgetown Epicurean and said the Georgetown restaurant had no issues. He said the mistreatment the lawsuit addressed occurred in another restaurant he once owned, also named Epicurean and Co., on Connecticut Ave.

“At the Georgetown location by itself, from day one, I’ve complied with the Just Employment Policy,” he said. “I was surprised when [the student leaders] had come in [on Nov. 11 to the Georgetown location].”

However, according to court transcripts, Marvin Hercules, a plaintiff in the court case who was previously employed at Epicurean on Connecticut Ave., claimed that he was mistreated after he was rehired at Georgetown’s Epicurean and told his job was at stake if he continued to pursue his case.

Wiese said that the University has maintained close contact with contractors’ employees. “We’re out there all the time,” she said. “I’ve never had any contractor say, ‘You can’t be here, get out.’ We wouldn’t partner with people like that.”

GSC, on the other hand, believes that the University was hesitant towards taking action with Epicurean. “This summer, there was a minor audit, but after that audit, there was very little attention given to Epicurean,” Ranjan said. “We’d like to see them in action.”

In spite of the University’s stance, GSC believes that the petition put pressure on Chon and the University to be more accountable to Just Employment Policy. “[Chon] said that the administration and students can speak to workers whenever they want, which was a really big step for us,” Ranjan said. “[Before], Mr. Chon really discouraged anybody speaking to workers personally one-on-one.”

Epicurean workers that the Voice interviewed spoke positively of their work environment. Daysi Trolina, an overnight employee from El Salvador, said that her supervisors are responsive to her concerns during Epicurean’s late-night service.

“Sometimes we have big lines,” she said. “I’m busy, I call him, and [the manager’s] coming to support me.” She noted that she does not talk to her co-workers outside her shift and does not know any grievances other workers might have had.

Ranjan questioned whether the Voice’s interviews with Epicurean staff would even be effective. “People aren’t going to speak out about mistreatment or harassment about the place that they work,” she said.


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