Over the summer, while some of us took classes, worked jobs and internships, or relaxed at home, many people who work at Georgetown University wondered whether they would have a job to return to in the fall.
This August, Epicurean and Company took over management of Bulldog Tavern from Aramark, Georgetown’s food service provider. For weeks, workers who expressed interest in keeping their jobs at Bulldog waited to receive job offers from Epicurean. Only recently did the company promise to make sure that every worker who wanted to work at Bulldog would be rehired.
But Epicurean cannot simply offer people jobs: It must offer jobs that workers can accept.
We have learned from workers that Epicurean is offering lower wages than Aramark offered during its stint as the contractor. Tipped workers will be paid minimum wage: $3.89 hourly, rather than the hourly wage of $10 to $12 they made under Aramark. Cooks will receive $14 per hour, which is $1.75 to $2.75 less per hour than what people were making previously.
This wage change is unacceptable by the university’s own standard. Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy — which outlines the university’s standards for wages, unionization and other labor issues — maintains that as of January 2018, every Georgetown worker should be compensated at $16.77 per hour. Unless Epicurean makes up the difference in benefits, it will be in flagrant violation of this policy. The university is tasked with ensuring that the companies doing business on its campus abide by the JEP by paying their workers a living wage.
Although workers at Bulldog Tavern are not Georgetown employees, they are entitled to the same JEP protections.
The contract requires Epicurean to “comply with the university’s Just Employment Policy and ensure all full-time employees receive total compensation of at least $16.77 per hour,” Matt Hill, Georgetown’s media relations manager, wrote in an email to The Hoya.
If Epicurean continues to violate these basic standards, Georgetown must take action.
It is also the university’s responsibility to make sure that Bulldog is a dignified place to work. It is therefore concerning that the university has awarded Epicurean this contract, knowing the company’s egregious history of workers’ rights violations. In 2011, a judge found that four workers had a credible claim that Epicurean had stolen from their wages. The lawsuit resulted in 12 employees receiving compensation for unpaid wages dating back to 2007. In 2013, Epicurean’s owner, Chang Wook Chon, pled guilty to charges of criminal contempt, which were filed after a worker suing the restaurant claimed Chon had threatened to fire him in retaliation. Chon also allegedly threatened to call immigration authorities on a worker suing the restaurant.
Epicurean may say that its practices have changed under new management, as university officials claimed in a meeting with members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee earlier this month. If so, why did it wait so long to rehire Bulldog workers who sought to keep their jobs? Why did it slash wages? It is clear to us, and should be clear to the Georgetown community, that not enough has changed.
The onus is still heavily on Epicurean and Georgetown to prove that the former is now a responsible employer. Of course, a union could also check any potential abuses in the workplace. Unfortunately, while Bulldog workers were unionized under Aramark, they lack that protection under Epicurean, which is not a union shop. Moving forward, Epicurean must respect workers’ rights to organize, and the university must commit to being the neutral arbitrator it claims to be.
In short, Epicurean is bound by Georgetown’s core values and policies: care for workers as whole people. Caring for a whole person means caring whether their wage is decent, whether their workplace is tolerant and tolerable, and whether they have dignified work.
GSC, of which we are members, is driven by its mission of working in solidarity with workers against the exploitative system under which this university operates. When making decisions, Georgetown and its administrators must keep in mind that students and workers are ready to fight, as they have in the past. The protections for workers on this campus, most notably the JEP, only came to fruition through student and worker organizing and struggle. These protections were not simply handed to us by the university, and we are committed to ensuring that they remain enforced on campus.
Let’s remember that the Georgetown community is not only composed of students, faculty and staff. The people who serve us our food, clean the buildings that we take up space in, and ensure that the university is a place where we can all excel are just as essential to this community as we are. Many have been here long before we arrived; many will be here long after we leave. We ask that during our time here, we all stand in solidarity with each other.
Gabriel Berger is a sophomore in the College. Jessica Richards is a junior in the College.
This article was updated to add comment from the university and reflect Georgetown’s contract with Epicurean.