Georgetown University’s dining and administrative workers are the backbone of this university, and many have dedicated years of their lives in service to the Georgetown community.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the university has shown little regard for their contributions. Instead, workers have experienced a violation of the university’s Just Employment Policy, which commits to providing Georgetown’s workers a living wage and a safe and harassment-free environment. The university has violated this agreement by drastically reducing employees’ weekly hours and placing them in roles not fit for their expertise or training. Current working conditions are deplorable and have led undergraduate students, graduate students and staff to form the Georgetown Coalition for Workers’ Rights and create a list of demands submitted to the university Feb. 23.
As the pandemic still poses a public health risk to the Washington, D.C. community, the university must immediately meet the requirements of the JEP and implement safe and equitable working conditions for all Georgetown employees.
In June 2020, Georgetown introduced a policy called Redeploy Georgetown, which reassigned some administrative workers directly employed by Georgetown to public health roles on a supposedly voluntary basis. University departments selected workers for redeployment to accommodate the university’s desire to keep costs low for the spring semester by not hiring additional contract workers. These workers are primarily responsible for checking students’ green badges as they enter buildings and escorting students who test positive for COVID-19 to quarantine, tasks that put the health of these administrative workers at risk.
Originally, the university asked workers to volunteer for redeployment. Because of a lack of volunteers, however, Georgetown announced in December that it would require certain workers, selected by heads of departments, to perform these public health duties. These administrative workers were not adequately trained to perform these duties, however.
Workers who decline Redeploy assignments face mandatory unpaid leave, as listed in the Redeploy Guidelines. This consequence leaves employees without health insurance, and they are ineligible for government benefits such as unemployment checks, disability benefits and benefits from the Tuition Assistance Program.
In addition to being inadequately trained to perform public health responsibilities, Redeploy selections are made by department heads with no consultation from administrative staff. In response to this unfair treatment, a group of administrative staff sent an open letter — signed by nearly 300 Georgetown staff, students, faculty and graduates — to the university in January, calling for the suspension of the Redeploy policy. The university sent an email reply to GCWR one month later, dismissing the concerns with no commitment to action. GCWR was created as a result of the administration’s inaction.
The fight for workers’ rights does not stop with Georgetown’s administrative workers, however. Aramark employees, who currently serve our community at Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall and Royal Jacket, work significantly fewer hours than before the pandemic, and most are only allowed to work every other week.
Aramark says that it will help workers find other temporary jobs, an inhumane response that fails to actually secure workers’ livelihoods, especially for workers of color hit hardest by the economic downturn. Workers are simply not making enough to live in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, forcing some to rely on crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe to pay their expenses. Based on a recent D.C. living wage study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the living wage for a two-earner household with no children — the lowest living wage of any household type — is $14.88 per hour, or a benchmark of $30,950.40 per year. While the JEP mandates a $17.28 minimum wage, it offers little protection to employees who are working reduced hours and are unable to secure a second or third job to make ends meet.
GCWR cannot stand to watch these injustices continue and believes that administrative employees and Aramark workers should have safe working conditions and access to free personal protective equipment, especially as students have told us that mask and social distancing guidelines not being followed in common spaces.
After significant delays, redeployed workers have finally been provided PPE, according to the responses provided to the coalition, though these workers reported checking GU360 badges for days without PPE in the beginning of the semester. The fact that workers had to repeatedly bring up the issue with managers while going days without PPE is symptomatic of Georgetown’s exclusion of workers from nearly every level of decision-making. This protective equipment should automatically be given to all employees and not be a hindrance to their ability to perform their duties.
GCWR is also pushing for the suspension of Redeploy Georgetown and for greater transparency in the university’s employment policies. For redeployed workers, the university must communicate the specific process by which staff volunteers can request accommodations and protections on the basis of disability, medical conditions, child and dependent care, and education needs. Instead of coercing administrative workers into unpaid leave for not wanting to be redeployed, the university can choose to offer financial incentives that will encourage staff to take up these temporary roles. While not directly employed by the university, Aramark workers should also receive aid from Georgetown through eligibility for the GUCares emergency grant programs and two additional weeks of paid time off, which can come from a shared pool of paid time off for all Aramark workers.
As students who benefit from the hard work of Georgetown’s dining and administrative workers, we have the responsibility to advocate for workers’ rights. Either directly or indirectly, they have shaped our experience on the Hilltop, and the protection of workers’ rights is integral to an equitable COVID-19 response. We call on the rest of the student body to take a stand with us and support these vulnerable workers.
Anyone who has any valuable information or would like to be a part of our coalition may email us at [email protected].
Rowlie Flores is a junior in the College. Leo Rassieur is a junior in the College. William Leonard is a sophomore in the College. Deborah Wey is a first-year in the School of Foreign Service. All four serve in the GUSA Senate and are members of the Georgetown Coalition for Workers’ Rights.