Epicurean and Company owner Chang Wook Chon has pledged to uphold the university’s Just Employment Policy but has not agreed to change his business practices in response to a petition delivered by student representatives Nov. 11 protesting the treatment of his employees.
“It’s not something I have to change because of the petition or the demonstration,” Chon said. “But we’ve been doing what we are supposed to do to comply with the Just Employment Policy.”
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 that was issued during a civil lawsuit. The complaints stemmed from practices at Chon’s Connecticut Avenue establishment, which is not beholden to the JEP.
The petition, delivered by a 40-student group led by representatives from the Georgetown University Student Association, the Georgetown Solidarity Committee and Hoyas for Immigrant Rights, sought to bring attention to Chon’s alleged mistreatment of Epicurean workers, expressing “great concern regarding allegations of wage theft, intimidation and the mistreatment of immigrant workers at Epicurean.”
The document called for Chon to publically reaffirm his commitment to the policy, a framework designed to ensure fair wages and access to certain university resources. Additionally, the petition requested that Chon fully cooperate with the efforts of the university administration to ensure transparent and fair business practices.
“I have taken many steps to show my commitment to Epicurean employees, to Georgetown University and to the Just Employment Policy,” Chon wrote in a letter addressed to the Georgetown community Nov. 18. “I will continue to work with the associate vice president of auxiliary services and the greater Georgetown University administration on the Just Employment policy.”
Chon restated his commitment to fair treatment of employees, stating that continued adherence to the JEP guidelines is a required condition of his business practice.
“Right now in this location, it’s mandatory, and I have to do it. We’ve been doing what we are supposed to do to comply with the Just Employment Policy,” Chon told The Hoya. “I am aware of it, so I followed it from day one when I started this business.”
According to GSC member Irene Koo (COL ’16), however, Chon’s treatment of employees on the Georgetown campus did not always adhere to the JEP.
“We were really concerned about the fact that workers on our own campus were being mistreated. We had no way of making sure that the abuses had stopped or that the university could effectively enforce the JEP based on the existing contract,” Koo said. “I don’t agree with his statement that he has complied with the JEP ‘from day one’ because it is clear that in the past, many of his employees had grievances about withheld wages, threats and intimidation.”
Assistant Vice President of Auxiliary Services Joelle Wiese also affirmed that the university has not directly undertaken any new policies towards Epicurean as a result of the student protest against Chon’s treatment of his staff.
“I don’t know if there have been any direct effects of the petition other than a lot of communication back and forth,” Wiese said.
However, she noted that over the past several months, the university has undertaken broader measures to make sure campus businesses are complying with the JEP, although not all efforts have been widely publicized.
Wiese pointed to a compliance hotline, the use of employee surveys, financial audits, town hall-style meetings between workers and administrators and a video outlining the various facets of the JEP to Epicurean workers as parts of a larger effort to include workers in the greater campus community.
GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) described the pace of implementing new university policies in response to the petition and protest as sluggish, saying that student activism is playing a role in making the university a better place for employees.
“It’s been a really great opportunity for [Chon] to publicly commit, which is what we’re asking for,” Tisa said. “Going back to the original petition, we wanted to open up that dialogue and then prove that students are watching, and students are caring about these members of our community.”
Wiese stated that the ultimate goal of any changes to university policy should be to find new ways of supporting the workers.
“Going forward with the Just Employment, we’re coming up with new ways that we can actually ensure compliance,” Wiese said. “That’s one of the ways Georgetown is reaching out to the contracted employees in general, to help make them feel part of the family.”