Thirty students from the Georgetown Solidarity Committee participated in a rally at the Georgetown University Hotel and Convention Center on Thursday, in light of recent allegations that members of Aramark’s management have interfered with the hotel workers’ rights to association.
The students marched from Sellinger Lounge to the front desk of the hotel, where a delegation from the committee read a letter to the management staff addressing the allegations, warning that they would notify the university administration and police if such violations continue.
According to GSC member Chris Wager (SFS ’17), committee members met with workers at the hotel over the past several days to discuss the process of unionizing under UNITE HERE, the same labor union that workers at Leo’s, Cosi and Starbucks joined in 2011. Managers of the hotel, which is operated by Aramark, allegedly surveilled the conversations and warned the workers against meeting with the committee at a captive audience meeting Thursday.
“[Workers’ freedom to association] was violated by Aramark managers at the hotel, who surveilled hotel workers while they were having conversations with Georgetown students,” Wager said. “They followed the workers out into the parking lot while they were having conversations, they listened to the conversations, they watched the conversations, all of which counts as surveillance, which is not legal.”
GSC member Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS ’17) said that the managers intimidated the hotel workers at the captive audience meeting into not speaking with the committee.
“The managers called all the workers into a captive audience meeting, which is a meeting in which they call the workers in and close the doors and say, ‘Hey, we can’t tell you not to talk to all of these people, but we would be really cautious about talking to all these people.’ So this is a tactic that the management uses to intimidate workers,” DeLaurentis said.
The alleged violations add to an ongoing series of allegations that university workers have made against Aramark. In February, GSC amassed 2,021 signatures in support of workers at O’Donovan Hall and Hoya Court who spoke out about poor wage and work conditions.
Last week, Associate Vice President for Auxiliary Services Joelle Wiese and Director of Business Policy and Planning J. Callahan Watson sent a letter to Aramark Corporation Chairman Eric J. Foss requesting that Aramark managers respect workers’ rights in negotiating a fair process for unionization.
“As a Catholic and Jesuit institution, Georgetown University is committed to justice and common good, which includes affirming the dignity of human work and respecting the rights of workers,” the letter read. “We strive to uphold these principles and values in our business operations to foster a fair and just workplace for all members of the Georgetown community, including the employees of vendors that provide services on campuses.”
The letter also mentioned that Aramark must respect the rights of its employees as per the Just Employment Policy, which was established as part of Georgetown and Aramark’s contract.
Watson said that the administration is in full support of fair negotiations between Aramark, the union and workers on campus.
“We expect that Aramark and the union will continue to negotiate in good faith to reach agreement on their new contract,” Watson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
During the rally, GSC member Erin Riordan (COL ’15) reiterated the administration’s request in the letter to the hotel management and said that the committee would act upon further violations of workers’ rights to association.
“If you engage in any of this intimidation again, whether it’s monitoring conversations or another captive audience meeting, we will go directly to the administration and see that Aramark is directly removed from this campus,” Riordan said.
When GSC member Julia Hubbell (COL ’15) asked Georgetown University Hotel General Manager Kevin Morris whether or not he plans on respecting workers’ rights to a fair process, Morris declined to commit immediately to any requests made by the committee.
“At this point, I am not in a position to accept or acknowledge anything that is being requested today,” Morris said.
Aramark Corporate Communications Director Karen Cutler said that the company respects its workers’ right to unionize.
“We have a great deal of respect for our employees and we fully support their democratic right to understand all of the issues and choose for themselves on the matter of union representation,” Cutler wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Aramark has a long history of fully supporting union organizing processes based upon the rules and regulations established under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and monitored by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).”
However, DeLaurentis said that federal law requires that Morris comply with the committee’s demands for a fair process.
“[Morris] should have been able to say yes because supporting the fair process is required under federal law,” DeLaurentis said. “So what he was saying was that he can’t be sure right now if he’s going to respect workers’ rights to talk to us without intimidation, which is required under federal law.”
Workers at Leo’s, Cosi, Starbucks and the Jesuit Residence construction are the only workers on campus who are represented by UNITE HERE, which Hoya Court and hotel workers wish to join.
Josh Armstead, a worker at Leo’s, said that unionization has protected workers from abuse and workers’ rights violations, which are often experienced by workers at other Aramark vendors on campus.
“I really do think [unionization has helped Leo’s workers] because from the stories I’ve heard from other community members [before unionization] … it was kind of bad,” Armstead said. “Now, if the management has something to say, he or she has to choose their words carefully. … He can’t be vindictive against you for a personal reason. … They can’t target you, they can’t intimidate you.”
DeLaurentis said that the solidarity committee will continue to support workers at Leo’s, Hoya Court and the hotel as they renegotiate terms on their contract with Aramark.
“This is something we’re doing at the workers’ request, with the workers’ support, in solidarity with the workers,” DeLaurentis said. “This is what we truly believe and what workers have told us is what they want for their workplace and their lives, so we’re trying to act in solidarity with that.”