In a year dominated by student advocacy efforts to address issues at Georgetown from its history with slavery to divestment, workers’ rights has remained a prevalent issue on campus.
Student athletes called for the university to re-evaluate its relationship with Nike, which has been accused of mistreating factory workers, while the Georgetown Solidarity Committee launched its Work With Dignity Campaign in March to better recognize and demand improvements for university workers.
Evaluating Georgetown’s Relationship with Nike
In mid-April, University President John J. DeGioia penned a letter to Nike emphasizing the university’s code of conduct and encouraging them to cooperate with the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring body.
The university’s Licensing Oversight Committee recommended the letter be sent to Nike and also recommended requiring Nike to sign the university’s code of conduct. The LOC also recommended the university not renew Nike’s contract with the university in its current form.
The letter came after months of advocacy efforts by Georgetown athletes and workers’ rights advocates. Athletes and Advocates for Workers’ Rights wrote a letter to DeGioia in November encouraging the university to end its relationship with Nike. Twenty athletes and advocates signed the letter on student-athletes’ behalf.
AAWR was formed after a lecture by anti-sweatshop activist Jim Keady in November, who addressed working and living conditions at Nike factories in Asia.
The group held an open forum in early December, where the group discussed questions from student-athletes and prepared to meet with DeGioia. In March, former Nike garment worker and union president Noi Supalai discussed her experience working for Nike, including her difficulties receiving fair wages from the company.
AAWR lead organizer and LOC member Jake Maxmin (COL ’17) said it is critical for Nike to comply with the university’s code of conduct.
“The big thing for us is for Nike to oblige by our code of conduct. The upcoming end date [of the contract in early 2017] has given us some leverage with them,” Maxmin said.
Earlier in November, controversy arose after three student-athletes taped over the Nike logo on their university-provided shoes. Student-athletes are not allowed to alter university-provided apparel, according to the Student-Athlete Equipment Agreement that all student-athletes are required to sign.
Improving Workers’ Rights
When Winter Storm Jonas hit Washington, D.C., in January, workers were given the choice of staying on campus or staying at home without pay until the storm passed. Around 200 facilities workers stayed on campus overnight to shovel snow and keep campus operations running. Some of the workers did not have a bed to sleep in overnight.
The university was accused by the Georgetown Solidarity Committee of providing inadequate on-campus accommodations for the workers who chose to stay on campus. The GSC drafted a list of demands, including increasing university accountability, enforcing fair business practices, reforming hiring and staffing practices and treating workers with dignity and respect. These were delivered to administrators on March 16 as part of the group’s Work With Dignity campaign.
The demands were accompanied by a rally in Red Square on March 18, and an op-ed in The Hoya, in which GSC accused the university of violating the Just Employment Policy — established in 2005 to maintain fair labor practices and create a safe working environment — during Winter Storm Jonas.
GSC member Joseph Gomez (SFS ’19) said while the administration has not yet implemented concrete changes, the group is pleased with the progress made so far. “The standout achievement would probably be getting the attention of the administration,” Gomez said. “We’ve met with [Senior Vice President Christopher] Augustini and [Vice President for Public Affairs Erik] Smulson and a bunch of other workers, and engaging in dialogue of how the administration can work with culinary committee and the workers to implement the demands that we are seeking.”
Gomez praised the Georgetown community for its support for campus workers.
“I think Jesuit values are very progressive, and very caring for everybody and the whole person, and so because of that the student body is more aware of people in general,” Gomez said. “And then with the living wage campaign in 2005, that brought more awareness to the student body, and now kind of like culminating in what we’re doing now.”
Other student groups worked to support campus workers this year. Students of Georgetown, Inc.’s Social Impact Committee launched the Citizen Scholarship in March, which works to fund the citizenship process for facilities workers, in conjunction with the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and Working Poor and the D.C. Schools Project.
Febin Bellamy (MSB ’17) launched Unsung Heroes — a Facebook page that posts interviews and photos of Georgetown workers — on April 1 in an effort to increase recognition for university employees.
The project, which was initially developed as an assignment for philosophy professor Jason Brennan’s “Moral Foundations in Market Society” class last spring, is sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative University.
“The style that we have used so far is just to get students to understand that [these workers] are human beings — they have stories. I think once students start seeing that, we’re going to continue doing that but it’s going to also be more action. Sort of like, now that we know that they exist, how do we give back to them?” Bellamy said.
GSC member Dan Zager (COL ’18) said students have generally been more attentive to workers’ rights compared to last year, when the group held rallies supporting Aramark workers’ demands for better working conditions.
Workers reached an agreement with Aramark in April 2015, which included implementing a process for unionization and improved working conditions and wages, after employees complained of managerial interference in the unionization process and poor work conditions.
“Having a campaign this year sort of built off of what we did last year — we won last year, that was big — and I think that along with Unsung Heroes has really shifted student perception to be more [supportive],” Zager said. “That along with what’s going on nationally, you’ve got a major democratic candidate Bernie Sanders who advocates for sort of the same issues that we’re advocating.”
Gomez said GSC will work to build on this year’s campaign next year.
“We’re going to continue, in the summer into next year, just to keep awareness, and keep everything — make sure that what we want is accomplished,” Gomez said.