UNITE HERE Local 23, the labor union representing Aramark employees, along with two former Aramark employees of Bulldog Tavern filed a lawsuit Aug. 20 against Epicurean and Company for alleged workers’ rights violations.
Plaintiffs Edward Williams and Lisa Moriolé are filing suit with Unite Here Local 23 against Vigor Restaurant LLC, the name of Epicurean and Company, for allegedly violating the 1994 Displaced Workers Protection Act, a provision in D.C. that allows displaced workers to retain employment through a transition employment period.
The contract for Bulldog Tavern switched to Epicurean and Company around July 27, when the on-campus restaurant shuttered its doors without prior notice, according to the lawsuit. The former Bulldog Tavern employees, who were employed by Aramark, suddenly found themselves without work when the Tavern contract switched, Unite Here Local 23 Vice President Josh Armstead said in an interview with The Hoya.
“We’ve worked hard to create a high standard, and we as the workers here are very interested in maintaining that standard,” Armstead said about the union.
The lawsuit alleges that Epicurean and Company did not meet the requirements of the Displaced Workers’ Protection Act, which states that employees of eight months or longer must be offered their jobs under the new contractor for at least a transition period of 90 days. After the 90-day transition period, the new contractor can evaluate the employee’s performance and determine whether to retain them.
However, Gabe Berger (COL ’21) — a student in Georgetown Solidarity Committee, a workers’ rights and social justice advocacy group — said Aramark workers at Bulldog Tavern told GSC they were not offered back their jobs at the establishment after Epicurean and Company took over.
Although Aramark offered employees positions at other Aramark locations, Epicurean and Company did not immediately offer Bulldog Tavern employees the opportunity to continue in their positions, according to GSC members.
“It is good news that every worker who wanted to keep their job has now been be rehired,” Berger said in an interview with The Hoya. “It is still very concerning that there was a long waiting period — when you’re trying to treat people with dignity, you don’t leave them in limbo over how they’re going to bring in enough to put food on the table for weeks.”
The employees were eventually offered their positions at Bulldog Tavern, but by then, many had sought other employment, Armstead said. Last year, Bulldog Tavern had a staff of approximately 20 to 30 employees, Armstead said, but only about 10 wish to return for this academic year.
“We have quite a few who do want to come back and enjoy the standard they were used to, when there was a union shop,” Armstead said about employees who chose to leave Bulldog Tavern under the new contractor.
Epicurean and Company said in a statement that it offered positions to Bulldog Tavern employees after Aramark offered them positions at other campus locations.
“To our understanding, Aramark offered positions within campus to all Bulldog employees in order to avoid displacement,” Epicurean and Company said in a statement to The Hoya. “Epicurean offered employment immediately after receiving the list of employees and before any hiring had taken place.”
Georgetown University spokesperson Matt Hill also said Epicurean and Company took the appropriate steps in its placement process.
“All Aramark hourly employees employed at Bulldog Tavern were offered positions in other Aramark food service locations on campus. Epicurean also offered positions to all hourly employees who worked at Bulldog Tavern and gave them the opportunity to return before moving forward with its hiring process,” Hill wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Armstead attributes the low employee retention rate to lower wages offered by Epicurean and Company compared to Aramark. Epicurean and Company offers a starting wage at $14 per hour and $3.89 per hour for tipped employees, before benefits, according to Bulldog Tavern Manager Marta Bertolo. These wages exceed the Washington, D.C. minimum wage of $13.25 per hour and $3.33 per hour for tipped employees.
Bertolo said that, with benefits, Bulldog Tavern exceeds Georgetown University’s Just Employment Policy minimum total compensation for university and contractor employees of $16.77 per hour.
“We have and will continue to abide by all laws and regulations of the District of Columbia and Georgetown University’s Just Employment Policy,” Bertolo wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The Just Employment Policy applies to both university employees and university contractor employees.
“Georgetown University is committed to ensuring workers are treated fairly under our Just Employment Policy and expects contractors at the university to comply with the Just Employment Policy and the law,” Hill said.
Epicurean and Company echoed Bertolo’s statement, maintaining that it offered Bulldog Tavern employees the same wages and benefits offered to other Epicurean and Company employees, which satisfy the Just Employment Policy.
“We make it one of our main priorities to maintain a safe, respectful, and rewarding environment for our employees and will continue to do so in the future,” Epicurean and Company said in a statement.
Epicurean and Company has faced civil lawsuits before. In 2015, a woman filed a lawsuit against a restaurant janitor and Epicurean and Company for damages related to an incident in which the janitor peered under the woman’s bathroom stall at Epicurean and Company — an action for which he was prosecuted. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2016.
A 2012 lawsuit filed against Epicurean and Company by three former employees alleged that the employer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and District of Columbia Minimum Wage Revision Act, failing to keep accurate employee timesheets and provide the appropriate overtime rate. A similar lawsuit was settled between Epicurean and Company and four former employees in 2010, a collective action case related to unpaid wages.
“Epicurean has a history of being an abusive employer and the onus is on them and the onus is on the administration to prove they no longer are,” Berger said.