Last Saturday, amid the frenzy of GAAP weekend and the annual Run for Rigby event, Georgetown’s Grilling Society wasn’t the only group serving burgers and hot dogs in the 85 degree heat. Across from the long lines for GUGS burgers in Red Square, members of Georgetown Solidarity Committee set up tables and a grill on Healy Lawn for a barbecue with on-campus workers. The event was also cosponsored by GUSA and the Advisory Committee on Business Practices for the first time in the barbecue’s history.
GSC members hold this event each semester to give students a chance to interact with workers outside of the traditional service environment. “It’s fun, a lot of students played with workers’ kids and it was just a fun, informal atmosphere,” Rachel Milito (SFS ’12), a member of GSC, said. “It’s important to show appreciation for all the work that workers do on campus that often goes unnoticed, but more importantly it’s a forum for workers from different parts of campus to get together and see if they’re having similar experiences and have a sense of solidarity.”
Compared to past semesters, this semester’s barbecue had much higher attendance rates. “It was mostly Leo’s workers and Public Safety officers. We reached out beyond that but that was the best turnout we’ve had at a BBQ before,” Samuel Geaney-Moore (SFS ‘12) said. “It was nice that that GUSA cosponsored it, and some of the members of the Advisory on Business Practices came as well, which is more than we’ve got in the past.” Geaney-Moore pointed to the campaign negotiations for the union as a significant source of bonding between the students and workers.
In light of the recent firing of two Leo’s workers, the conversations at the barbecue inspired the workers to arrange a meeting for Thursday to outline the rights of a worker. “If you don’t speak up we don’t know what’s going on. You can’t wait till you get fired. The union can only protect you if you have a job. If you don’t have a job, what can you do? A lot of people don’t understand their rights. Because of the picnic we’re going to have a meeting on Thursday to outline those rights,” Tarshea Smith, Leo’s employee and member of the Unite Here! Leo’s branch Worker Committee, said.
The barbecue also gives workers the opportunity to share their workplace environment with their children and expose them to university life. “We can bring our kids to interact with our coworkers because they don’t have job picnics anymore, they used to, but lately with Aramark they don’t have stuff like that. It gives us all a chance to get together and it’s like we’re a real community,” Smith said. “It also gives our kids a chance to come to a university…to see a college and how kids aren’t studying all the time but actually have a life.”
Smith spoke about the future of union negotiations and the importance of pushing the workers to stay involved. “I think we have a long way to go, but we’ve came a long way, we’ve had a whole lot of progress,” she said. “It’s a respect issue. Some managers are still really disrespectful, and really try to disrespect the workers. It’s really important workers know their rights.”
Despite these difficulties, many workers feel the union has made some positive change. “Most of the managers have improved a lot. So, it’s progress,” she said.
Photos: Vanya Mehta
Disclosure: In addition to being Vox Populi’s blog editor, Vanya is a member of Georgetown Solidarity Committee.