Georgetown has had a long history of activism, with many students vocally supporting social justice and equal rights. This remarkable commitment was on show again last week as students joined in solidarity with dining workers in their ongoing negotiations to unionize.
As reported in The Hoya last Friday, dining workers have publicly voiced their desire to unionize and gain collective bargaining power with their employer, Aramark. On Feb. 9, about three-fifths of the workers signed a request asking Aramark to remain neutral as they finalize the steps to join Unite Here, an international foodservice union. This process has been in the works for nearly seven months and has had integral support from many student groups, faculty and members of the Jesuit community.
While students’ activism is an important part of the campus community, many groups become frustrated; they are often unable to move beyond just advocacy and significantly influence the change itself. Those involved in the unionization negotiations, however, have provided an inspiring example of effective participation in the process of change.
Since the beginning of the talks last July, groups such as the Georgetown University College Democrats, the Georgetown chapter of the NAACP, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan and EcoAction have played a progressively more active role in building consensus among students and the university administration in favor ofthe workers’ desire to unionize. By speaking on behalf of the workers, the several hundred students associated with the union discussions have helped provide a safety net for Aramark employees, who potentially risked their jobs by moving to unionize.
Student involvement in the unionization process also puts the words of Georgetown’s social justice tradition into action. Since the late 19th century, Catholic social teaching has highlighted the right of workers to organize. Moreover, the Jesuit principle of cura personalis certainly aligns with the dining services employees’ wish to have a voice in their workplace and improve their ability to meet basics living costs, like those of health care.
While the effects of unionization on O’Donovan Hall and other outlets of Georgetown University Dining Services are unclear as of now, there is little reason why students should not support the humane treatment of workers who serve to make their everyday lives just a little bit better. The support from student groups throughout the process and most recently among the entire student body has been instrumental in empowering the workers to organize and seek better working conditions. The apparent success of this process has been a victory not only for workers but also for students. Through this process, they have become men and women for others.