Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Living Wage Gets Help From Congress

Twenty Congressional Democrats sent a letter to University President John J. DeGioia last week urging him to allow unionization for subcontracted university workers from P&R Enterprises, who have worked with students to secure higher wages as part of the Living Wage Campaign over the past year.

The letter, dated Feb. 15 and co-written by Representatives ichael H. Michaud (D- Maine), Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Stephen F. Lynch (D- Mass.), said that “the right to organize, and collectively bargain, is an internationally recognized human right.”

“We are writing to respectfully request that you take the necessary steps to ensure that Georgetown University protects its contractor employees’ right to organize,” the letter said.

Coalition members campaigned to increase compensation rates for subcontracted employees with an eight-day hunger strike last spring, and in the past few weeks have argued that employees have not yet received the full packages of wages and benefits promised by the university last year.

Coalition members have also recently criticized the university for failing to observe card-check neutrality which would allow workers to unionize when a majority of them sign union cards. Under a card check system, the university would have to recognize Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, a union of 85,000 service workers that a majority of P&R employees have joined.

A majority of the 35 custodians employed by P&R Enterprises sought representation by SEIU last February through a card check system instead of a confidential ballot method.

Coalition spokesperson Shalini Thomas (SFS ’08) said that congressional support indicates that the organization’s goals are reasonable and realistic.

“This is not a radical idea,” Thomas said. “The Living Wage Coalition and the workers are asking for something that we can all relate to: representation.”

In their letter to DeGioia, the congressmen said that the confidential ballot method is “open to manipulation, delay and interference,” and “improperly pits employers against employees, generating unnecessary conflict in the workplace for what should be a simple choice made by and among the employees.”

University spokesman Erik Smulson said that the university’s policy toward labor unions complies with all laws and upholds the university’s core principles.

In an interview, Sanchez, the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Labor and Working Families, said that the confidential ballot method is an antiquated and inefficient process.

“The card check system is simply the more efficient and fairer way to determine the will of the worker,” she said. “An employee’s decision to be represented should be respected and the card check system does that.”

Neither Georgetown nor P&R Enterprises, however, is required to recognize unions through the card check system under current law.

The Employee Free Choice Act, a bill introduced last year by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who signed the DeGioia letter, seeks to change this by requiring the National Labor Relations Board to recognize an employee’s right to collectively bargain if the card check system is adhered to, according to the Congressional Research Service. The bill would permit a majority of the bargaining unit employees to designate a union representative without a formal election process, according to the CRS.

Neither the university nor P&R Enterprises have recognized the employees’ decision to collectively bargain.

Richard Gibson, an organizer at SEIU local 32BJ said that he is disappointed with P&R’s position.

“P&R observes card-check neutrality in other contracts, but has refused to do so in this case. Card-check and card-count neutrality is a fair and reasonable way for workers to organize,” he said.

P&R spokesmen did not respond to a request for comment.

The policy that the university adopted last March says that “the university will respect the rights of employees to vote for or against union representation without intimidation, unjust pressure or hindrance in accordance with applicable law.”

Smulson said that the policy is consistent with values that are key to the university’s educational philosophy.

“Georgetown is fully complying with current law, and our Just Employment Policy puts us at the forefront of just wages in this region,” he said. “Any of our contractors are free to adopt a card-check process if they decide to do so.”

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