Students and professors alike recently experienced the record-setting blizzard and ensuing four-day weekend that immobilized the District of Columbia. In order to clear the heavy drifts of snow and ice, as well as serve food to snowed-in students, many of Georgetown University’s dining and facilities employees stayed on campus for the duration of the weekend. They were given the option of staying overnight if commuting back home or not earning weekend pay would be impossible. For many workers earning hourly wages, losing such a significant portion of the workweek was simply not a viable option.
As people enjoyed the respite from classes and took advantage of the lifted ban on sledding at the Capitol, many also took the time to recognize the hard work of Georgetown’s employees. Multiple posts on Georgetown Confessions, a Facebook page where students can publish anonymous statuses, for example, gave a special shoutout to the workers braving the cold to clear pathways and entrances across campus. Provost Robert Groves also wrote a blog post expressing his gratitude for workers’ dedication to the university. While such widespread campus support of workers is wonderful, these gestures of appreciation must extend beyond words.
The very workers praised by students and the administration faced an appalling dearth of accommodations during the long weekend. Numerous workers were not given a place to sleep at all and additionally had no place to shower. The shortage of cots provided for workers is certainly a problem that should have been anticipated long before the winter storm, but this alone does not fully address the egregious lack of care exhibited by the university. While many facilities workers were given only a blanket and pillow and told to sleep on benches or floors in various campus buildings, all senior-level management employees, including supervisors, managers and contractors, were offered rooms in the Leavey Hotel or Rosslyn Marriott. This unequal treatment represents a serious breach of the Jesuit values that supposedly guide Georgetown’s employment practices.
It is important to note that the dining hall employees were given meals and hotel rooms over the weekend as per their union contract. Though in the past Aramark employees have also been forced to stay overnight in their cars or in campus buildings, they were able to secure an agreement providing these basic accommodations. When facilities workers renegotiate their contract this summer, students should pressure the Office of Planning and Facilities Management to ensure that similar language is written into their contract to make sure the events of the snow storm are not repeated.
The university has an obligation to care for those who care for our students and faculty. If we recognize that our campus could not run without the commitment of Georgetown employees and that workers are an integral part of the Georgetown community, we must also make sure to support their rights, both during snow days and throughout the calendar year. If the university has a shortage of cots, they must commit to place workers in hotel rooms. As Provost Groves stated, “We owe them [the workers] thanks.” It is our responsibility to make sure these words are followed by concrete commitments.
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