Students, campus workers and community members came together in a demonstration to express solidarity with mistreated university workers in Red Square on Friday. The rally, which was led by the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, served as the concluding event in its first weeklong Work With Dignity Campaign.
The campaign was launched Tuesday by committee members who wrote an op-ed published in The Hoya on Friday, March 18 claiming the university undermined and violated the Just Employment Policy — established in 2005 to maintain fair labor practices and create a safe working environment — with its treatment of workers during Winter Storm Jonas in January.
During the storm, Georgetown administrators were accused of providing inadequate housing accommodations to university employees who remained on campus. Workers were given the choice of either staying on campus overnight until the storm passed or leaving with no payment until the university reopened.
Unable to lose hours and pay, many workers stayed overnight and slept on benches and floors in university buildings. According to some university workers, the only accommodations afforded to them were a trash bag, a blanket, a towel and a pillow.
On March 16, a group of students and members of the Work With Dignity Campaign delivered their demands to university administrators, including increasing university accountability, enforcing fair business practices, reforming hiring and staffing practices and treating workers with dignity and respect.
Along with the demands, the demonstrators delivered to university officials the same accommodation packages given to workers during the blizzard, including a trash bag filled with a blanket, a towel and a pillow.
During the Friday rally, three university workers gave their personal remarks and experiences working on campus. The workers included Clarence Wesley, a facilities management employee, Josh Armstead, an employee of O’Donovan Hall, and Esmeralda Huerta (SFS ’17), a student employee.
Wesley said it is important that community members come together to express solidarity with workers and to denounce the hostilities many employees have endured on behalf of the administration.
“Many of us [workers] are having the same difficulties. For example, I have been retaliated against for speaking out about discrimination and this is still an ongoing problem because the retaliation has still continued. I was put on administrative leave as a result of this retaliation,” Wesley said.
Upon his return, Wesley claims he was punished with extra work as a result. He emphasized the need for the community to stand together so every worker can demand dignity and respectful conditions without fear of repercussions.
“When I came back from administrative leave, I was given an extra building. Now, I’m taking care of five buildings. Most people take care of one or two buildings,” Wesley said. “It’s important that we stand together so that you know that you are not alone in this growing hostile working environment that has not happened in facilities before.”
Armstead said the lack of dignity and respect for one worker affects all workers at Georgetown. For Armstead, every employee and community member needs to contribute to the welfare of Georgetown’s employees.
“In essence, what happens when a worker is disrespected, or as I have heard, when we have workers sleeping in cots who have to be here to make sure that this university is up to par, and we have these workers sleeping on cots and working five buildings and being discriminated against, that affects us at Leo’s, that affects us at Hoya Court, that affects every worker, union and student alike because if it can happen to them, it can happen to us,” Armstead said.
Huerta, who serves as co-chair of the Office of Student Worker Advocacy, drew from her own experiences as the daughter of low-wage workers and discussed the conditions many Georgetown workers endure.
“The very same conditions that I saw my parents working in, I see people working in here,” Huerta said. “People being overworked, people being discriminated against, people being abused by their employers, but having to go through those jobs anyway because they have to support their families.”
As a student worker herself, Huerta said students have a responsibility to create change in the community as well as advocate for their own rights as workers.
“We reach out to student workers who are taking on-campus jobs, off-campus jobs and who don’t really realize that they have rights,” Huerta said. “We as students not only have a voice to make sure that things get changed, but we also have rights and have a stake in this fight.”
Following the rally in Red Square, Pamela Gonzalez (SFS ’17) and Kory Stuer (COL ’19) led a group of students and community members in a march to University President John J. DeGioia’s office and presented a board with reasons why Georgetown should care about its workers.
As of press time, the university has not provided a formal response to the written demands, though Chief of Staff of the Office of the President Joe Ferrara spoke with the demonstrators Friday and said he would present the demands to DeGioia.
Joseph Gomez (SFS ’19), a member of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, outlined ways that both Georgetown administration and students could remedy the injustices against workers. He said there is a need for the administration to apply the community’s dedication to Jesuit values to its treatment of all employees.
“If Georgetown were to just follow the Jesuit values that are set forth in the Spirit of Georgetown, and then incorporate that with what was supposed to have been implemented in the Just Employment Policy, then that can easily remedy the situation that is occurring now within university workers,” Gomez said.
Gomez said he hopes students across campus will educate themselves on issues of workers’ rights in the future by simply getting to know workers on a more individual level through personal discussions and encounters.
“The most important thing for students is to get to know the workers. Get to know the workers that you’re around everyday. Talk to people in Leo’s. Talk to the people that clean the bathrooms in your dorms. They’re human beings and they want to share their stories,” Gomez said.