No one should be treated better than the people that feed us. As much as Georgetown students love to complain about Leo’s, as freshmen and sophomores we bond over shared meals at our beloved O’Donovan’s on the Waterfront. Upperclassmen not lucky enough to be SEALs (or, “Seniors Eating At Leo’s,” for those not in the know) reminisce about partaking in the most sacred of all Georgetown traditions — Chicken Finger Thursday. The people that work to make these valuable experiences possible deserve our utmost respect.
However, respecting the people that work hard day in and day out to serve our university community does not necessarily mean supporting minimum wage laws or the so-called “living wage.”
Despite all of the good intentions behind proposals such as these, the unintended consequences from them would likely do more harm than good.
Policies and legislation that aim to mandate higher wages ostensibly for the sake of workers usually result in overall lower employment and fewer hours worked as companies have to find other places to cut costs.
Additionally, they lead to greater inflation as prices have to rise to pay for the higher salaries. As a result, low-wage workers do not enjoy a real increase in income because goods become more expensive.
San Francisco is one of a handful of cities providing a real-time example of how this plays out as it begins to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. While still only two months into the first phase of the five-year wage hike, one business has already almost faced a shutdown.
Borderland Books pays its employees the minimum and is facing a 39 percent payroll increase over the next five years. Given the obstacles it faced from such an increase in expenses, it was scheduled to close its doors in March before fundraisers provided a temporary reprieve. Nevertheless, relying on public donations is not a long-term business strategy and will not be enough to prevent reduced growth in minimum wage sectors and further job losses.
The policies proposed in the petition currently circling regarding Aramark, although a hyper-local issue, would similarly have tangible consequences for students and workers. These proposals aim to increase workers’ benefits packages, resulting in the same effects as wage hikes.
As The Hoya published last week, the petition supports, “a 40-hour paid work week, an increase in health care benefits, the protection of immigrant workers, anti-discrimination rules and greater involvement in food sustainability discussions on campus.”
It remains unclear how, exactly, food sustainability discussions play into the way workers are treated or compensated, but, regardless, it is a provision like the others that would raise costs.
At Leo’s, Hoya Court and other Aramark-run establishments, instituting these changes could mean less staffing and higher prices for meal plans that many students are already struggling to pay for.
As the saying goes, not all that glitters is gold. Students’ desire to involve themselves in the contract negotiation process comes from a noble and well-intentioned place. However, Aramark employees at Georgetown already have a union and collective bargaining rights. As Karen Cutler, Director of Corporate Communications for Aramark, said via email, “the wages and benefits for our employees at Georgetown are agreed to by the union and set by the collective bargaining agreement.”
Students should not interfere in the workers’ process just so they can pat themselves on the back, feeling as if they helped to accomplish something without initiating any real change. Advocating for initiatives that expand low-wage workers’ opportunities and ability to climb the ladder to the middle class, such as by easing occupational licensure requirements and improving public school education, would be a more efficient use of students’ energy.
Cutler noted that Aramark itself provides “a variety of benefits, including health care benefits and training opportunities for our employees” that help to enhance opportunities.
Whether at the macro level of cities or on our own campus, poverty cannot be mandated away through wage hikes.
Given the damaging effects that come from minimum wage laws such as less employment and inflation, policies that aim to make earning low wages a temporary state of life would better serve workers.
Instead of wishful thinking or advocating the seemingly simple solution, comprehensive reforms are needed to improve the lives of low-wage workers and expand the middle class.
Mallory Carr is a senior in the College. The Right Corner appears every other Friday.