Addressing Workers’ Rights

As the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university, Georgetown has a unique spirit of caring for one another. This is evident in our students’ dedication to service in our city, our faculty and staff’s tireless dedication to educating and supporting our students and in the many small acts of gratitude and service witnessed on campus each day.

Dedication to community and the mission of our university is on display each time an unplanned event closes the university, requiring dozens of staff to work to keep campus operations running for the thousands of students on campus. As a residential campus, we are a unique and complex environment that continues operations, even during an emergency. To do this requires that some employees report to work during inclement weather, like the historic snowstorm in January.

During this storm, we were concerned by reports that some of our facilities workers on campus did not have the designated accommodations that we make available to emergency employees. Based on reports brought forward by students, faculty and staff, we conducted a comprehensive review of theme planning, preparations and execution for this event.

In our review, we found that many of the measures we worked to proactively have in place worked. Designated rest cycles for employees were put in place, and all meals and protective snow removal gear were provided for those on campus. In addition, we ensured that Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service continued to operate at full capacity during the storm. These well-coordinated efforts, combined with the tireless work of our facilities employees, allowed for a safe campus during this historic storm.

Where we were successful, we want to replicate our systems for the future. And in areas where we fell short, we will improve. Our review found that 17 out of 215 facilities employees did not have designated sleeping accommodations on campus. Our planning for events like this includes ensuring that we balance the number of employees required to respond to emergency events with our ability to accommodate them on campus. In this case, we fell short of the standards we set to support all members of our community.

Moving forward, we will ensure that we are prepared to accommodate and support the number of employees needed to work during similar situations. We will also communicate more effectively with emergency employees about our plans for staffing and accommodations during these types of events.

Last week, a group of students shared a list of concerns and requests in their “A Call for Work with Dignity” document. We look forward to productive conversations to discuss these concerns. Some of the suggestions could inform our work in the short term as we consistently seek to improve our planning and implementation. And some of the suggestions may not be possible or may need to be included in longer-term planning and strategies.

Following the Easter break, I will convene a group of university colleagues and students to discuss these concerns and requests. Our university has a history of productively engaging with members of our community around issues and concerns, and we look forward to using this document to guide our work.

I would once again like to offer my deepest thanks to all those who worked during the winter storm. We appreciate the dedication of so many, which ensured the safety and well-being of our community — a demonstration of the true spirit of Georgetown.

Christopher Augostini is Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Georgetown University.

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