Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Students Petition Against Poor Working Conditions at Epicurean

Members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee called for fairer working conditions for workers at Epicurean and Company in a petition delivered to the Epicurean manager Monday.

Around 15 members of GSC, a student group dedicated to promoting workers’ rights, led a march beginning in Red Square toward Epicurean on Monday morning. Participating students held flyers and chanted in support of Epicurean’s workers. At the restaurant, students read out the petition’s demands, which included respecting breaks during shift and providing three to five sick days for workers per year, before handing the signed petition over to Michael Chon, the manager of Epicurean.

SOPHIA NUNN/THE HOYA | GSC students marched to Epicurean to deliver a petition supporting better treatment of restaurant workers March 24.

The petition alleged Epicurean had a long history of mistreating of its workers that included reported instances of wage theft and threats to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement on an immigrant employee.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against workers on the basis of citizenship status. Washington, D.C.’s Wage Theft Prevention Amendment Act of 2014 also provides fines, penalties and possible suspension of the business licenses of employers who fail to pay their employees wages and provide written notice of their terms of employment.

All members of the Georgetown community should recognize this petition and support the workers of Epicurean because of the university’s core Jesuit values, according to GSC member Mariel Mendez (COL ’21).

“If we are truly committed to Ignatian values of social justice, we should support the working-class people on this campus who are resisting abuse from managers, owners, and the University,” Mendez wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Workers on this campus make the University run, and it is shameful that they are not granted the respect and dignity they deserve.”

The petition also calls for the firing of seven managers who have all allegedly violated labor laws.

Complaints from four employees against Epicurean proprietor Chang Wook Chon led him to plead guilty to the charge of criminal contempt in March 2013. Chon was charged for attempting to settle a civil suit over allegedly failing to pay Epicurean employees for overtime outside of court without any lawyers present.

In light of the petition, Epicurean aims to adjust its policies to better support its employees, according to Michael Chon.

“We’re looking at this petition and some of the concerns that were raised as an opportunity to kind of do better,” Michael Chon said in an interview with The Hoya. “I’ve been meeting with some of the employees to kind of figure out what we’ve done well in the past, what we haven’t as much and what we can do better in the future.”

The petition also calls on the university to hold its contractors accountable and ensure they are abiding by both D.C. labor laws and the university’s Just Employment Policy, which dictates fair wage standards for university employees, according to Mendez.

“We need to remind everyone that years ago students went on a hunger strike to force Georgetown into adopting the Just Employment Policy which among many things sets a living wage for campus workers and protects their right to organize freely,” Mendez wrote. “The university needs to honor this policy and ensure that all of its contractors (and the university itself) are not only following the JEP but also federal and D.C. labor law.”

Members of the Georgetown community, including workers, have the right to a safe and harassment-free environment and are entitled to a competitive compensation package, according to the Just Employment Policy for Georgetown University.

Twenty-six students went on a hunger strike in 2005, demanding the university raise the total compensation for all contracted workers, which previously ranged from $11.33 to $13.42, up to $14.93 per hour. The strike lasted eight days before the university compromised and agreed to raise wages to $14 for contracted workers by 2007.

In response to the petition, Georgetown remains committed to ensuring fair treatment of its employees, according to university spokesperson Matt Hill.

“Over the past several months the University has engaged directly with Epicurean to make sure owners, managers and employees understand and comply with the Just Employment Policy,” Hill wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The University has taken a number of steps, including providing training sessions on the Just Employment Policy to managers and employees, recommending additional training for managers and ensuring grievance procedures are posted and available to employees.”

Eliciting a universitywide response and commitment to changing the toxic work culture at Epicurean is the goal of the petition, according to Mendez.

“As students, we realize the limits of going through formal channels,” Mendez wrote. “The goal is for transformative and long-term change to be made, and the whole campus community needs to be engaged for that. The petition served as the first step towards that goal.”

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