Ensure Georgetown workers get what they deserve

March 1, 2024

Design by Jihoo Yang

Student-worker solidarity requires continuous action. This editorial board calls on students to support dining workers in their upcoming contract negotiations with Aramark. The negotiations will begin on March 6 and last until Unite Here Local 23, the union representing main campus dining workers, and Aramark, the university’s subcontractor for dining services, reach a new agreement. During this time, students should vocalize support for workers and pressure Aramark to enact workers’ demands for higher wages, improved healthcare coverage, and safer, more inclusive working conditions.

Georgetown relies on subcontracted labor as a way to shirk managerial responsibility and distance itself from the needs of workers. However, the university is still required to hold contractors like Aramark accountable and protect the rights of subcontracted workers. According to the Just Employment Policy, Georgetown must ensure that university employees and full-time contract workers are guaranteed fair wages, a safe and harassment-free work environment, and the right to unionize.

Despite the Just Employment Policy, the university chooses not to involve itself in union negotiations. “When workers are in a union, the university refrains from interfering in their labor-management relationship, which is contractual and is subject to periodic renegotiation, as is happening this spring with the Aramark workers,” Joseph McCartin, executive director for the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, wrote in an email to the Voice. Still, the university possesses influence over how Aramark treats its employees—and more significantly, an ethical responsibility to use it.

Georgetown entered its contract with Aramark in 2008 amid widespread protests calling for better treatment of Aramark employees. At the time, the food service company had an abysmal labor rights record, which has only worsened in years since. Beyond its partnerships with universities, Aramark is also the largest provider of food services to U.S. prisons. It has been repeatedly accused of severe health and safety violations, exploiting unpaid labor, sexual harassment, and employee misconduct in the prisons it operates. Workers frequently sue Aramark in class action lawsuits over labor rights violations including unpaid wages and unpaid overtime.

In 2016, Georgetown’s contract with Aramark was set to expire. Students vocalized strong opposition to the proposed contract renewal and circulated a 2,000-signature petition, which cited Aramark’s extensive labor rights violations. 

Despite student protest, Georgetown decided to renew its contract with Aramark for the next 10 years, which underlines the university’s lack of substantive commitment to labor rights. If Georgetown wants to embody the Catholic value of dignified work, it should not continue to partner with a company that participates in labor exploitation, upholds the prison-industrial complex, and profits off of workers’ rights violations. Because the university knowingly kept a corrupt contractor in our campus community, it has an even greater responsibility to protect dining and facilities workers. 

The university’s current contract with Aramark will expire in 2026. Georgetown should leverage the extension of that contract to ensure Aramark complies with workers’ demands in their upcoming contract negotiations. Since dining workers’ last contract negotiation with Aramark in 2019, dining workers have faced new challenges that threaten their health, safety, and livelihoods. It is imperative, therefore, that Georgetown ensure Aramark management meets these demands. 

Firstly, workers have voiced concerns about wages. While contracts between the union and Aramark can last several years, the cost of living continues to rise. Thus, new contracts must include a wage that expressly keeps up with the cost of living like those secured at peer institutions in recent years. Dining workers have also expressed frustration that they are ineligible to receive pay when the dining hall is shut down and the university is out of session. Additionally, their current contract includes only six sick days and does not include paid time off. This is especially problematic given the prevalence of COVID-19, which may require workers to quarantine for several days.  

The current contract with Aramark has also failed to protect workers’ physical health and access to health benefits. According to members of Georgetown Coalition for Workers Rights (GUCWR), workers who are scheduled for more than 40 hours per week are eligible for Aramark’s full-time employee benefits. However, GUCWR members said employees have reported being scheduled for just under 40 hours, rendering them ineligible for health benefits, despite expressing a desire to work full-time. Not only does this practice put dining workers’ health at risk but it directly opposes a provision in the Just Employment Policy ordering the university to provide “part-time or temporary work only when necessary.”

Dining workers also face issues with safety, hygiene, and inclusion in the workplace. According to members of GUCWR, dining workers have reported only having access to cold water in certain services, making it impossible for them to properly clean dishes. Workers have reported rats in their break rooms, which are located next to trash bins, posing serious health threats to both workers and students. Finally, workers who identify as gender nonbinary do not have access to gender-neutral changing rooms and restrooms, a policy that is in violation of Georgetown’s non-discrimination policy. On March 6, Unite Here Local 23 will begin advocating for these demands, among others, in the new contract with Aramark.

Drawing on the Jesuit tradition of worker justice, Georgetown claims to champion labor rights. And while the university has made important efforts to protect workers—like the Just Employment Policy—these advancements have only been made possible through student-worker organizing. Georgetown students must again show up for workers in this way, whether it’s through attending GUCWR meetings, involving themselves in campus protests, or raising awareness on social media. Students should form relationships with dining workers and treat them with the same respect other members of the Georgetown community receive.

Dining workers, and all workers contracted by Aramark, are valued members of the Georgetown community and deserve protection and support. The university must stand for the dignity of work and ensure workers’ demands are addressed in the union’s new agreement with Aramark.

Editor’s note: This article previously stated that full-time employees were those who worked 30 or more hours, according to the Affordable Care Act. The article has been updated to reflect that those who work 40 or more hours are considered full-time employees by Aramark.

Editorial Board
The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead. The Board strives to publish critical analyses of events at both Georgetown and in the wider D.C. community. We welcome everyone from all backgrounds and experience levels to join us!

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