Three years later, remembering the Leo’s labor union struggle

UntitledTuesday night, students, alumni and workers gathered in the Kennedy Multipurpose Room to discuss the state of labor rights at Georgetown in an event hosted by the Kalmanovitz Initiative.

A variety of topics, including the pristine reputation of Epicurean’s managerial staff, were brought up, but there was a definite focus on the unionization of Leo’s employees 3 years ago. Leo’s worker and union member Donté Crestwell led by recalling the multi-year effort to unionize Aramark employees at Georgetown. Aramark Educational Services Inc. is the company through which many University food services employees are contracted.

According to Crestwell, it all started when a student asked employee Tarshea Smith “why she never smiled.”

While most of the work took place during the 2010-2011 academic year, workers, students, and professors began organizing in early 2009. The discontent was born out of bad hours, low wages, and a profound lack of respect from the managers. The effort succeeded in bringing about a significant increase in rights and pay for Aramark employees at Georgetown.

Using clandestine tactics, lead organizers like Crestwell and Smith were able to get a majority of workers to sign on in support of the union. With the aid of student groups such as Georgetown Solidarity Committee and College Democrats (and plenty of coverage from Vox,) the University was persuaded to send a letter to Aramark reminding them of our just employment policy, which supports the oft-ignored right to unionize (because who follows U.S. labor law anyway?).

Employees voted to unionize, and negotiations began. In classic corporate fashion, negotiations were intentionally dragged on in hopes that employees would get frustrated and give up. Ultimately, through a demonstration on the holiest of days, chicken finger Thursday, and a promise of more civil disobedience to come, Aramark agreed to pay raises and to implement system that holds managers accountable for abuses against their employees.

Three years later, things have improved. However, the union is still fighting for a working hours increase from 37.5 to 40, which provides the benefits and pay of a full time job.

Members of the staff at Leo’s, alumni, and members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee urged new students to remember that the University listens to our voices if we continue to organize.

Photo: Georgetown Voice

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