From O’Donovan Hall workers challenging alleged employer abuses to Georgetown cutting ties with Adidas to adjunct faculty pushing to unionize, the past year saw a surge in labor activism from employees and student supporters.
Leo’s Workers Struggle with Employer
Despite unionizing under Unite Here — a national labor union that supports workers in service industries — in February 2011, Leo’s workers have expressed growing discontent with their employer, Aramark, throughout the year.
In response to student surveys collected in spring 2012, Aramark launched the “We Hear You” campaign at the beginning of the year. However, changes in food quality and selection drew criticism from both students and employees.
According to O’Donovan Hall employees, Aramark altered shifts and redistributed responsibilities in order to decrease the number of full-time salaries it had to pay.
“Now, three weeks into the school year, it is worse,” said a male employee of 15 years who spoke on the condition of anonymity at the time.
“A lot of people have second jobs, and they already had their days set. Now, people have to adjust their lives and tell the second job that they can’t work this day or have to come in later,” said a female employee of 19 years who also spoke on the condition of anonymity in September. “And we thought that was messed up, because it wasn’t broken, so why did [Aramark] try to fix it?”
Despite these changes, Aramark Director of Communications Karen Cutler said the company has a strong relationship with O’Donovan Hall employees.
“Our employees at Georgetown are represented by a local union who negotiated a collective bargaining agreement on their behalf,” Cutler said. “We have a good working relationship with the union and adhere to the terms and conditions of that collective bargaining agreement.”
Student members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, which helped the workers unionize last year, called attention to the connection between student and worker interests.
“There are two components to [the changes], one being that students are affected by this. We have fewer options, fewer healthy options,” GSC member Erin Riordan (COL ’15) said. “There is also the worker’s side to it: Where by cutting certain stations, they end up cutting certain positions and giving people fewer hours.”
After hearing workers’ concerns, Aramark established weekly meetings with its employees in October aimed to improve worker-management relations.
Georgetown Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh expressed hope that the meetings would improve communication.
“These meetings provide the opportunity to voice any and all concerns and to discuss options and appropriate next steps,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Despite this initial optimism, workers delivered a letter of protest to Aramark managers four months later that requested the creation of a committee to address complaints and provide food sustainability and training.
After Delay, GU Ends Adidas Contract
In an effort to uphold a commitment to workers’ rights, Georgetown terminated its contract with Adidasin January after the company was accused of violating the Code of Conduct for Georgetown University Licensees.
The Worker Rights Consortium, of which Georgetown is a founding member, first reported in January 2012 that the sportswear company did not pay $1.8 million in severance payments to employees after its PT Kizone manufacturing plant in Indonesia closed.
The Licensing and Oversight Committee, composed of both students and administrators, advised the university to sever ties with Adidas last October. However, the decision was not finalized until a year after WRC made its initial recommendation.
In response to the university’s decision, Gregg Nebel, head of Adidas social and environmental affairs, and Chris McGuire, director of sports marketing, released a letter of defense shortly before Georgetown officially cancelled the contract.
Written in response to a letter Vice President for Public Affairs Erik Smulson (COL ’89) sent to Adidas representatives more than a year earlier, the letter said that Adidas was not connected to PT Kizone before or when it closed and provided $525,000 in food vouchers to its workers.
But according to Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Scott Fleming (FLL ’72), the company’s response did not sway the university’s decision.
“Quite frankly, their letter didn’t satisfy the university,” Fleming said. “Within a week, the decision was made and acted upon.”
Adjuncts Move Toward Union
Georgetown’s adjuncts began the process of unionizing under Service Employees International Union Local 500 Coalition of Academic Labor this March. Adjuncts will vote on whether to join this union by May 3.
After successfully partnering with adjunct professors at The George Washington University and American University, SEIU Local 500 officials set their sights on Georgetown in November. Four months later, the group filed a motion to vote to represent adjunct faculty at Georgetown.
Pablo Eisenberg, senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and a 12-year adjunct faculty member, supported the unionization initiative. He said that low wages negatively affect both adjunct faculty and students.
“If adjunct faculty are not taken care of, not treated better, not given the wherewithal that classroom teachers require, their students are going to suffer as much as they do,” he said. “There’s a link between the treatment of adjuncts and the quality of teaching in the classroom.”
GSC has not partnered directly with the adjunct movement but remains committed to supporting a safe space for workers on campus.
“The projects we take on are the ones the workers want us to take on,” she said. “It is always about how we can stand in solidarity with the workers to improve their lives on campus.”