Workers at O’Donovan Hall delivered a letter of protest to Aramark managers Wednesday afternoon to request the creation of a joint committee that would address complaints about working conditions and provide input on food sustainability and training.
“I’m ready. I’m tired of the harassment,” Nini Brown, a Leo’s worker and delegation member, said. “I feel my job is in jeopardy every day I clock in.”
The proposed committee would consist of workers, students, Aramark officials and university administrators.
Georgetown Solidarity Committee, an organization that advocates for the rights of workers at Georgetown, has launched the “Real Food, Real Jobs” campaign to bring fair jobs and healthy dining options to D.C. cafeterias. Student members of GSC backed the Leo’s workers in their letter delegation and delivered letters of their own Wednesday to the offices of University President John J.DeGioia and Cal Watson, director for business policy and planning.
Leo’s workers who were not on shift, GSC members and other supporters congregated in the lower kitchen area of the dining hall at 3 p.m. in hopes of delivering the letter to Aramark management. The group then entered the office of the district executive chef Stephen Winterling, who initially refused to speak with them.
“You’ve got to back up,” he said. “You’re supposed to call ahead and tell us that you’re coming to us. If you would like to let me know ahead of time, absolutely.”
Management was particularly vocal in its opposition to having students in the lower kitchen. The students had entered under the supervision of union representative Allison Burket.
“I’ll talk to the stewards. But I cannot have people who don’t work here [in] here. The students can’t be here,” Winterling said. “They’re going to get hurt. It’s a liability issue.”
After Leo’s executives cleared the students out of the kitchen and called the Department of Public Safety, many Aramark members left the cafeteria. However, upper management eventually accepted the proposal letter, which was received by a district chef.
“We didn’t delegate the person I initially wanted to delegate, the general manager. He had left,” a Leo’s worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity said. “We talked a lot about respect. The message was about how the workers are feeling disrespected. It seems like now that we have the union, [management is] retaliating against us in a slick way. They’re doing so much more than they didn’t do before.”
GSC member Natalia Margolis (SFS ’13) shared the employee’s reasons for staging the delegation.
“There’s been a lot of issues of managers trying to play every loophole they can. The workers have a contract now with the union, but still there’s a lot of intimidation going on,” she said. “We’re doing this after having met with the Leo’s worker committee because we formed a really strong relationship with them.”
According to Margolis, although the Leo’s worker committee is useful in generating dialogue between students and Leo’s employees, further progress requires the input of Aramark workers and university officials on a new joint committee.
Karen Cutler, director of communications for Aramark, declined to comment on the specific event but wrote in an email that workers have alternative means to communicate concerns to their Aramarkmanagers.
“Our employees at Georgetown are represented by a union and covered by a collective bargaining agreement,” she wrote. “This means they agreed to bring their concerns to their union representatives who then bring them to Aramark management on their behalf. This process for addressing and resolving employee issues and concerns, as well as all of the terms and conditions that are outlined in the collective bargaining agreement, are agreed to by both parties.”
Union representative Allison Burket agreed that a committee could help incorporate workers in more conversations regarding food options in the dining hall.
“Workers are sometimes not seen as important pieces of the puzzle when talking about sustainable food quality, so a committee is one of the ways to get there,” she said.
The letter delegation comes weeks after the Georgetown University Students Association passed an amendment Jan. 20 to form a Subcommittee on Food Service, which involves the input of students and workers, to improve food quality. But Subcommittee Co-Chair Sam Greco (SFS ’15) said the committee could not advocate for workers’ rights.
“The Subcommittee on Food Service does not have an opinion on or purview toward workers’ rights,” he said.