As Winter Storm Jonas blanketed the District of Columbia with approximately 2 feet of snow, around 200 employees from Georgetown’s Planning and Facilities Management slept on campus to keep the university running during the storm, some of whom found themselves without a bed.
Aramark employees at Leo O’Donovan Hall also remained in the area in order to ensure the Georgetown community had access to meals, while a number of employees of The Tombs and 1789 ensured that The Tombs stayed open all weekend.
Snowstorms like Jonas can cause university staff to sleep in on-campus accommodations for as many nights as services, such as snow shoveling, are required. One facilities employee, who has worked at Georgetown for over a decade and requested anonymity said the university offers limited amounts of cots within campus buildings for workers staying overnight.
“They haven’t … [provided enough cots] in the past,” the employee said. “Because they’ll be like: ‘We don’t have no more cots,’ if you asked for one.”
According to Vice President of Facilities Robin Morey, the university noted that it did not have enough cots during the week prior to the storm. In response, the university purchased 100 additional cots to supplement the 50 already in storage, and workers also had the option to sleep on extra mattresses borrowed from the Office of Student Living. Temporary living arrangements were established in the facilities’ offices in the New South building as well as in common areas within Village C West and Village A dormitories.
In addition to the cots and mattresses on-campus, Georgetown rented rooms in the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel in Rosslyn, and booked all available rooms in the GU Hotel and Conference Center on campus; however, the majority of facilities employees stayed in on campus residences close to pedestrian walkways to be readily available to clear snow. Georgetown also provided a shuttle service for campus-based workers from Rosslyn to its campus.
Morey said even with the additional cots, there might have been Georgetown employees who did not find an open bed during the storm.
“I can say that we have accommodated the vast majority,” Morey said. “I haven’t talked to all 200 people — would it surprise me if one or two people had to find a couch? No, it wouldn’t.”
Morey emphasized the university’s dedication to the significant amount of staff that remained on campus, but acknowledged the difficulty of effectively managing every individual.
“I don’t want to sound cavalier about one or two people, because everyone is of equal importance,” Morey said. “But, again, when you’re trying to coordinate the activities of 200 people, it’s possible that somebody slipped through the crack.”
McDonough School of Business distinguished teaching professor Thomas Cooke said he was concerned for some of the facilities workers he encountered upon leaving the Rafik B. Hariri Building on Friday afternoon, a few hours after the university closed at 12:30 p.m.
“I asked where [the workers] were staying, and I got the impression they really didn’t know where they were staying … and they had in fact been given a blanket and a towel and [were] told to find a place to sleep,” Cooke said.
Georgetown Solidarity Committee member Esmeralda Huerta (SFS ’17) said an inability to meet the needs of working staff is unacceptable.
“The point is, while there are resources, there hasn’t been a lot of planning, or it’s very inadequate,” Huerta said. “I feel like workers are often disregarded or their needs aren’t being met by the school or facilities or whoever happens to be their employer.”
Morey said even though oversights may have occurred, the safety of facilities workers was his number one priority.
Throughout the storm, workers received meal vouchers for breakfast, lunch and dinner at Epicurean and Company as well as appropriate shifts for rest, Morey said.
“We’re running appropriate work-rest cycles, making sure we’re not wearing our folks out,” Morey said. “[We made] sure they’re getting their rest cycles and, you know, getting the food so they can stay in good shape.”
According to facilities workers, even with food and lodging, some employees worked 12-hour shifts, while they manned shovels, snow-blowers, plows and heavy machinery, removing an estimated 3 million cubic feet of snow to ensure basic operations continued at the university.
This was also the first year facilities workers were paid for the time they spent on campus when not working. According to Morey, all the workers who stayed on campus during the storm volunteered for the snow detail, although some workers had to finish their normal shifts after the university officially closed.
The Tombs restaurant was also able to remain open through the storm. According to Director of Communications of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group Molly Quigley, employees were accommodated appropriately in hotel rooms.
“All 1789 cooks, chefs & managers that could, came in to help at The Tombs. We provided hotel rooms for staff that were not able to walk home,” Quigley wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“The General Manager, Rich Kaufman (SFS ’05) spent the entire weekend at the restaurant, sleeping on an air mattress in front of the fireplace in the restaurant. 1789 Chef Samuel Kim, when not in The Tombs kitchen grilling burgers, was outside shoveling. It was all hands on deck, all weekend long,” Quigley wrote.
The George Washington University and American University also accommodated their employees in hotel rooms, but each university had significantly fewer employees who stayed overnight than Georgetown did.
Sullen Day, a manager in facilities maintenance and operations for The Catholic University of America, said her university provides for its workers in the same way as Georgetown.
“Our campus ministry provides I think 30 or 40 cots for our grounds workers and I think our housing department tries to rustle up some beds for [our custodial team],” Day said. “The cots are provided to both groups, grounds and custodial.”
Assistant Director of Facilities Operations for American University Mark Feisp said his university applies a similar accommodation method as Georgetown for about 60 workers.
“We typically provide housing through our residence halls, so spaces with [bedding and washrooms] for the staff,” Feisp said.
Cooke expressed his admiration for the dedication that he sees in Georgetown employees, such as those who work in facilities.
“They’re hardworking people that we depend on every day,” Cooke said. “They don’t get enough credit for the hard work that they do…”
Joshua Gautreaux (COL ’18) stressed that his fellow students should remember to thank the workers for their labor.
“Definitely, stop and thank them for all the good work they’re doing,” Gautreaux said.