In January, The Hoya and The Georgetown Voice both published articles about the inadequate housing accommodations offered to Georgetown employees during Winter Storm Jonas. Georgetown presented the workers with the difficult choice of either staying on campus or receiving no payment until the university reopened. Many workers who decided to stay overnight on campus did so because they could not afford to lose hours and pay. Workers were handed a trash bag with a blanket, sheet and pillow and then told they were on their own to find a place to sleep. Many slept on the benches and floors of university buildings.
The conditions that workers experienced during the storm are in violation of the spirit of Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy, a 2005 policy that is designed to uphold fair labor practices and establish a safe working environment. The Just Employment Policy was born out of a worker- and student-led struggle to ensure that Georgetown holds itself accountable for the compensation and treatment of subcontracted facilities workers. Last year marked the policy’s 10-year anniversary, and there have been some meaningful gains for campus workers in that time. Our community should celebrate the past decade’s achievements, including the institution of a living wage and neutrality in the formation of unions. When workers across campus continue to experience mistreatment in the workplace, however, it is time for the Georgetown community to reassess the Just Employment Policy and its effectiveness.
A clear example of the need to re-evaluate the policy’s implications is the understaffing that has plagued our facilities management department for years, which forces workers to take on heavier workloads without increasing their pay and creates unsafe working conditions. One worker in our community was repeatedly asked to do electrical work, a job that he had neither the license nor the training to perform, when a single mistake could lead to injury or even death. Facilities workers of all races have shared stories about managers who make six-figure salaries while encouraging racial tensions between employees and demonstrating particularly virulent anti-Latino sentiment. Latino workers cite this racial animus in their assignment to areas that are too expansive to be cleaned during their shifts. Their requests to switch areas or to rearrange workloads more fairly are repeatedly denied by management.
These instances of abuse are not particular to the facilities management department alone, and represent only one portion of the widespread issues taking place across campus with directly contracted and subcontracted workers alike. Workers in every corner of campus — from O’Donovan Hall to Epicurean and Company, from the Georgetown Hotel to the Residence Hall Offices, and everywhere in between — have been denied the rights and respect they are entitled to under the Just Employment Policy and that they deserve as integral members of our Georgetown community. The treatment of workers during the blizzard was unacceptable. What is even more unacceptable is that this type of disrespect and dehumanization of workers has become standard operating procedure at our university.
This mistreatment and exploitation dishonors the Jesuit values that Georgetown claims as its guiding principles. Catholic social teaching strongly affirms the worth and dignity of work and the worker. While Georgetown is quick to cite its commitment to Catholic and Jesuit values, the mistreatment of Georgetown workers is neither Catholic nor Jesuit. Pope Francis called upon all of us in “a strong appeal from [his] heart that the dignity and safety of the worker always be protected.” Jesuit values must not only be applied when convenient. Jesuit values are more than slogans to be toted in Gaston Hall during admissions information sessions. Jesuit values must be more than just a marketing scheme.
Tomorrow, members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee will deliver a list of demands about how Georgetown must better treat its workers to various high-ranking administration officials, including President John J. DeGioia. We intend to treat these administrators with the same level of respect they have shown to their workers. Profit-driven administrators resisted the adoption of the Just Employment Policy 10 years ago, and we are prepared to fight to demand dignity for campus workers now.
Georgetown is our school, and we cannot allow the administration to continue to devalue the dignity of our community. It is time for Georgetown to live up to the Jesuit values it claims to practice. It is time to end the current mistreatment and exploitation of the workers at our university. It is time for Georgetown to give its workers the dignity they deserve. We hope you will stand up with us in the coming months to demand that our school do what is right.
Kory Stuer is a freshman in the College. Esmerelda Huerta is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Lillian Ryan is a sophomore in the College. Laura Fairman is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. They are all members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee.