Facilities Workers Reject Proposed Contract

FACEBOOK Students demonstrate in support of workers' rights on Georgetown's campus.

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Students demonstrate in support of workers’ rights on Georgetown’s campus.

Georgetown facilities workers rejected the university’s proposal to increase annual wages by 2 percent Wednesday, opening up the possibility of a general strike.

In a two-part vote conducted Monday at the main campus and Wednesday at the Georgetown University Law Center, workers voted in a 2-1 ratio against the tentative agreement reached between union representatives and university administrators Oct. 26, which falls short of the 1199 Service Employees International Union’s original demand of a 6 percent wage increase.

The proposed contract was the same one the university offered workers when negotiations began in June. The current contract expired Oct. 30 after it was extended from its initial June 30 renewal deadline.

Georgetown Solidarity Committee member Esmeralda Huerta (SFS ’17) said the workers’ next steps are uncertain. Workers will present the results of their vote to union representatives, and the university may then decide whether to continue negotiations with the union.

Should university administrators choose not to renegotiate conditions, the workers may vote to hold a strike to protest against the proposal.

“The university has the power to decide whether to continue negotiating. Depending on whether or not they want to keep negotiating, if they do want to negotiate, the union and the workers will keep bargaining,” Huerta said. “If they don’t, to my understanding, the workers must then take a strike vote to say whether or not they want to go on strike.”

Senior Director for Strategic Communications Rachel Pugh said the university is awaiting the union’s next steps.

“We are disappointed that the vote to ratify the agreement was unsuccessful,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We understand that the union is planning to discuss the outcome and next steps with the membership as soon as possible.”

A worker who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation said the union representatives had been vague in their recommendations to workers on whether to accept the contract.

Cleaning firm contractor P&R Enterprises and cleaning workers reached a contract agreement in June to increase wages in an example of a successful union negotiation process, according to the worker. The Georgetown Solidarity Committee has organized protests against the university’s contract proposal.

“We’re really uncertain on that, because when we did have the meeting, the union informed us that they weren’t going to come back to the table or anything like that,” the worker said. “We had to inform them that during the P&R negotiations, that the students had protested and assisted the union in getting a fair contract where now they make more than we do — the contractors.”

Workers, labor union representatives and student activists demanded a wage increase tied to the cost of living in Washington, D.C., similar parking and health care benefits to what workers at the Georgetown University MedStar Hospital receive and fair supervision practices.

Facilities workers currently pay $140 per month for parking and $15 for health care visits.

In addition to a 2 percent annual wage increase, the proposal the workers rejected denoted a $0.25 increase in wages every year until June 2019. The proposal required all minimum wages to increase to $13.50 per hour by June 2017 and $14.25 per hour by June 2019, in line with Washington, D.C. minimum wage increases.

Workers interviewed by The Hoya said they were disappointed with the final proposal and the union’s bargaining capabilities.

Another facilities worker, who also asked to remain anonymous, said the union representatives’ work was not enough.

“Many of us believe that the union is not doing as much as it could be doing,” the worker said.

A second facilities worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said the union was unwilling to consider renegotiating terms with the university.

“They informed us that management said that this was their final offer, and so, the union was telling us that this was their final offer, and so they were trying to encourage us to vote yes,” the worker said. “They admitted that we were underpaid. And so, we were questioning them on why they would bring us an underpaid contract. It doesn’t make sense the way they presented the contract to us.”

Huerta said the union’s work has been ineffective.

“The union could definitely be doing a better job, to be honest. Its head organizer was dismissed halfway through the contract negotiations, earlier last month. I feel like the union could have been pushing for more,” Huerta said. “For the past six months, Georgetown has refused to budge, and honestly it’s the union that’s been giving up on its demands.”

The facilities worker said he is aware of the possibility for workers to go on strike.

“We have to keep all options open,” the worker said.

Huerta said regardless, university administrators should be held accountable for failing to provide fair working conditions to facilities workers.

“At the end of the day, I see the onus falling on Georgetown to grant the workers who work at this university fair working conditions and just pay,” Huerta said.

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