Georgetown Solidarity Committee members led a demonstration by around 25 students outside McShain Lounge in McCarthy Hall where contract negotiations between facilities workers and the university took place Thursday to advocate for improved wages and working conditions for facilities workers.
Facilities workers and administrators have been negotiating terms for a labor contract extension with the university since June. GSC, which has sought to observe the negotiations, has not been able to participate in the conversation between members of the union and the university because a mutually agreed federal mediator for the negotiations has excluded third party observation.
In a handout, GSC members specified goals of ending understaffing and alleged racism and discrimination in the workplace, tying yearly raises in pay to inflation in Washington, D.C., and a minimum wage starting at $15 per hour.
Union members were pushing for a six percent wage increase. The District’s minimum wage is currently $11.50.
GSC Member Lily Ryan (COL ’18) said she is frustrated with the working conditions utilities workers face at Georgetown, citing understaffing, racism in the workplace and low wages.
“Our goal here is to make sure the workers are being treated with dignity and respect by the administration and our hope is that students can help build power with workers to accomplish that,” Ryan said. “The plan is to make sure that the administration and the people negotiating and the workers know that students are consistently supporting them. Students are going to be out here to make sure they’re aware that we’re behind the workers all the way.”
The rally was scheduled in three stages throughout today’s day of negotiations. The first phase began at 9:30 a.m. outside of McShain Lounge and lasted until 10:30 a.m.; the second phase of action began at 1 p.m. and the third phase of action began at 3 p.m.
By the day’s lunchtime break, the union had conceded a percentage point increase in negotiations but had reached an agreement on a healthcare plan. Wage negotiations will continue next Tuesday and Wednesday and are expected to last from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both days.
The demonstrators shouted chants of “Six percent, won’t settle for less,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, discrimination has got to go,” among others, in both English and Spanish. Chants after the lunchtime concession were altered to “Five percent, won’t settle for less!”
Half a dozen protestors marched with a megaphone aimed at the room where administrators and facilities workers were meeting for negotiations. In the afternoon sessions, around 25 protestors were present outside McShain Lounge.
A maintenance worker attending the negotiations, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern for administrative retaliation, said he was frustrated with inconsistent wage increase offers.
“They keep trying to give us two percent pay raise and we keep shoving it back to them,” he said. “The hospital got the same union and they make more than we make and they got the same job as some of us. … All of the skilled employees like plumbers, electricians, and maintenance mechanics, they make like $34, $35 an hour. Over here is like, make maybe $20, $23 an hour.”
GSC Member Esmeralda Huerta (SFS ’17) said university administrators have denied most of the workers’ requests.
“The university has been denying them for the past few months any request that they make. One of the things that the workers are asking for right now is a six percent wage increase every year over the next three years as well as better benefits, dignity and respect in the workplace. The university hasn’t really budged,” Huerta said.
Huerta said she hoped the student presence would encourage workers and show their support.
“What I see happening here is students and workers coming together to ask for more from this university for things that they righteously deserve,” Huerta said. “We’ll see what the result is, but given the fact that the university hasn’t given anything over the past couple of months, I’m furious and I wonder whether the university is going to negotiate.”
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