O’Donovan Hall workers and the Georgetown Solidarity Committee are collaborating to promote Real Food Real Jobs, a campaign that advocates for improved food quality and food service workers’ rights.
The two groups organized a town hall forum Monday evening to discuss the campaign, which is part of a nationwide initiative began by UNITE-HERE, the labor union that represents Leo’s workers.
The Real Food Real Jobs campaign started in Washington, D.C., last summer when contracts with food providers expired at many local universities, according to GSC member Erin Riordan (COL ’15).
Riordan and several other GSC members heard about the campaign through Local 23, the D.C. branch of the union, at the same time as Leo’s workers began to reach out to GSC members with concerns about the quality of the food they were preparing.
“We all noticed the changes happening at Leo’s this year. Some of the workers reached out to us. They were concerned with the food quality and what they were being asked to serve students — they care that students were upset,” Riordan said. “We recognized that bringing Real Food Real Jobs to Georgetown was something that we definitely needed to do. Workers are absolutely students’ strongest advocates in terms of food quality.”
The campaign aims to give workers a voice in the food-preparation process and facilitate increased training and skill development. Unlike workplace conditions, food quality does not currently fall under protected speech in the workers’ contract, so workers could potentially lose their jobs for speaking about the food which they are preparing.
The town hall meeting gave organizers the opportunity to present the campaign to both Aramarkadministrators and students.
Tarshea Smith, an employee who has worked at Leo’s for 19 years but is currently on leave working with UNITE-HERE, said that the campaign has successfully given a voice to workers’ concerns.
“We already had these same things we wanted — increased hours, worker training, et cetera — and now we’ve put on a name on it,” Smith said.
She said she believes that one of the main issues is a lack of general training about the content of Leo’s dishes for workers.
“They may ask us to work at a [food] station, and you don’t know anything about the food, and you’re scared to say you don’t know what to do,” she said.
The campaign also addresses other concerns, such as ensuring that workers are able to work a full 40-hour work week and that lower-level chefs are able to obtain food-handling licenses.
GSC has identified additional goals for the campaign, which include advocating for the use of local agriculture in Leo’s and paying workers a living wage.
According to GSC member Caleb Weaver (SFS ’16), UNITE-HERE has supported Georgetown students’ efforts to bring Real Food Real Jobs to campus.
“They’re really excited. What they’ve emphasized is that campaigns like this aren’t really effective if they’re an outside party. We emphasize that we this is something we want to come from the Georgetown community with the support of the union, not [something] imposed on us from outside,” Weaver said.
Allison Burket, an organizer with UNITE-HERE, attended the town hall meeting.
“I’m so excited students and workers are standing together to fight for sustainable food and jobs. Georgetown is really taking an initiative in taking part in the campaign especially because [unlike other D.C.-area schools], workers contracts are not currently up for renegotiation,” Burket said.
In an effort to make the initiative a community-wide effort, GSC has reached out to several other student groups on campus to get involved in the campaign. Georgetown University College Democrats and Georgetown Occupy, in particular, have both expressed interest in the campaign.
GSC members were hopeful that this campaign would mobilize the Georgetown community.
“A lot of people are going to be hooked when they hear about how this [campaign] affects food quality. I think that establishing the connection between quality of food and worker justice issues is going to allow the community … to see how bringing about better food quality for the community can lead to a more just workplace and a more firm commitment to our Jesuit values,” Weaver said. “The principles of social justice as part of Georgetown’s Jesuit identity demand that employees of Georgetown are treated in a just manner.”