More than 40 students marched into Epicurean and Co. on Monday afternoon to present a petition with 500-plus student signatures to owner Chang Wook Chon, demanding fair treatment of Epicurean workers.
The event was organized by the Georgetown Solidarity Committee with the help of members of Georgetown chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Hoyas for Immigrant Rights and the Georgetown University Student Association.
Chon was charged in 2010 with withholding overtime wages from workers and violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. He pled guilty in March to criminal contempt for violating a court order issued during a civil lawsuit.
Although Chon’s civil lawsuit is ongoing, Chon is also accused of bribing an employee who had attempted to recover back wages through the lawsuit with the promise of a promotion if he would drop the civil case.
The group presented its petition to Chon and gave cards and flowers to the restaurant’s employees.
“Georgetown is defined by its commitment to uphold its Jesuit values. Epicurean workers are valuable members of our community, and as students we’re extremely concerned about how the workers have been treated,” GSC member Irene Koo (COL ’16) said.
The event was also meant to motivate the university administration, which protestors say has not been properly responsive to worker conditions on campus. Students said the university had not enforced its Just Employment Policy, which was implemented in 2005 after a group of GSC students mounted a successful hunger strike to urge the administration to raise custodial workers’ wages in a Living Wage Campaign.
In the petition, students called on Chon to make a public commitment to the Just Employment Policy, work with the university to set up accountability measures and institute Just Employment Policy training for Epicurean workers.
Hoyas for Immigrant Rights President Citlalli Alvarez (COL ’16) said she hoped the protest raised awareness among the student body and exerted pressure on the university and Chon.
“We hope that it sent a clear message that Georgetown students are interested in what’s happening at Epicurean and that [Chon] would feel pressured to ultimately run his workplace in a way that it needs to be run and provide his workers their deserved rights,” Alvarez said.
Students who participated saw the event as a way to demonstrate their commitment for just treatment of Georgetown employees.
When asked about Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy, Chon said that he has abided by the policy despite the ongoing lawsuit.
“Yes, we have been following and reporting. We had an incident last year. I think I’m doing a good job. You know, I have those contracts and I will follow them. I will do my best,” Chon said.
The event was planned for Monday in advance of Tuesday’s meeting of the Advisory Committee on Business Practices. The ACBP, composed of university administrators, students and professors, addresses compensation and other workplace issues for contracted and hourly employees.
“It will definitely come up tomorrow in the meeting, and that is when the committee will be actually discussing how to move forward,” Koo said. “It’s basically giving the university a gentle nudge.”
Koo attributed the success of the protest to the turnout and expressed optimism for working conditions at the restaurant in the future.
“We seemed to really have caught [Chon] off guard, which is really good, because the issue will definitely be on his radar now. He’s really going to be thinking about making sure he’s really going to follow the Just Employment Policy. Now that we went in and gave him the petition, he knows that people are watching closely,” Koo said.
Despite student leaders’ optimism, Epicurean and Co. workers were confused about the purpose of the sudden influx of students.
“It’s really sweet. I really appreciated it. But what just happened? What was it about?” an Epicurean worker said.
The worker said she heard about Chon’s lawsuit in the spring but was not aware of any development since then.
GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14), who represented student government at the protest, highlighted the process as an important step for more student engagement in lobbying for fair treatment of workers at the university.
“The Just Employment Policy means that workers are a part of our community and that we have the responsibility to make sure they’re being treated fairly,” Tisa said. “It’s great that students are active and caring about the community. The event went well. It sent a clear message, and I have high hopes that positive results will come out of this.”