Eight members of the workers’ advocacy group Georgetown Solidarity Committee were removed from the Georgetown University Law Center by Georgetown Law Department of Public Safety officers Oct. 14 during a demonstration in support of Georgetown facilities workers, who are continuing labor contract negotiations with university administrators.
Facilities workers, their union representatives from Service Employees International Union Local 1199 and university human resources representatives have been negotiating terms for a new labor contract since early September.
The union must either accept the university’s current offer, call a strike or further extend the duration of the current contract by Oct. 30 to continue negotiations.
Facilities workers aim to gain a 6 percent annual wage increase and parity with Georgetown University MedStar Hospital workers with regard to parking and health care costs.
GSC is also demanding better translation services for workers, an end to understaffing and protections against alleged workplace intimidation practices, in addition to the 6 percent annual wage increase.
The university proposes that facilities workers accept a 2 percent annual wage increase along with a 6 percent health care cost increase. Currently, facilities workers have to pay $140 a month for parking and as $15 for regular healthcare visits.
The meeting between the university and the workers’ union was originally set to take place Oct. 4 at McShain Lounge, but the date was changed to Oct. 14 and the location shifted to the Eric E. Hotung International Law Building at the Law Center.
GSC members were met by Georgetown Law DPS officers, who prevented them from entering the building while trying to deliver a petition signed by around 950 students, faculty and community members demanding better working conditions to negotiators.
GSC Member Mizraim Belman (SFS ’20) said the officers were waiting for the students when they arrived.
“As we were trying to enter the building where negotiations were taking place, police officers were at the door and they stopped us, asking us what we were planning on doing, and prevented us from entering the building,” Belman said. “They definitely knew that we were coming.”
Belman said two members of the university’s human resources department, Director Roberta Paul and Vice President for Human Resources Brenda Malone — both on the university’s negotiating team — met them outside the building to accept the petition. However, members of GSC insisted on delivering the petition to the entire negotiating group.
According to Belman, the GSC members snuck into the building and chanted outside the negotiation meeting room. They were subsequently removed by DPS officers.
Belman said GSC will be delivering a petition to the office of University President John J. DeGioia on Oct. 24.
Belman said the university changed the location of the meeting to thwart students’ attempts to show support for facilities workers.
“Usually all negotiations have been taking place here on the main campus,” Belman said. “We do see this as possibly a reaction to our rally that we wanted to have in support of the workers.”
The new contract, when ratified, will apply until 2019. Along with university representatives, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an independent agency that promotes labor-management cooperation, has been helping with negotiations.
The current contract under which facilities and maintenance workers are working was finalized in July 2013 and was set to expire June 30. Due to the ongoing negotiations between the university and the union, however, the contract has been extended to expire Oct. 30.
GSC member Esmeralda Huerta (SFS ’17) said that if the new contract were to be finalized in its current state, workers would essentially end up worse off than they were before contract negotiations.
“The university is absolutely not willing to give more than 2 percent. Because health care costs are increasing by 6 percent and because parking has increased as well, that means workers are going to be worse off than before if the university gives them 2 percent,” Huerta said. “This is their wage over the next three years. It really matters.”
A facilities worker who has been employed at the university for over a decade said under the current facilities manager, incidents of workplace discrimination have been prevalent.
The worker, who requested anonymity out of fear of retribution, said employees of the same nationality as the current manager, who is from Jamaica, are provided with additional break time and preferential treatment for overtime.
“I want there to be equality,” the worker said. “I want us to be treated fairly regardless of race, regardless of nationality.”
The worker expressed concern over the firing of Maria Ochoa, an administrative organizer with SEIU Local 1199 who had been representing the workers in negotiations. Ochoa was perceived to have worked cooperatively with workers, providing interpretation for Spanish-speaking workers.
“There’s a lot of concern over what happened with Maria,” the worker said. “We’re worried that the union might accept whatever contract the university gives them, which so far hasn’t been a good one.”
Associate Vice President for Strategic Communications Rachel Pugh said the university has shown a commitment to negotiating fair agreements with the SEIU Local 1199.
“We have a long history of collective bargaining with 1199 SEIU and we have reached mutually acceptable collective bargaining agreements with the union in every negotiation,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Our bargaining process involves representatives from the university and the union, and, at the request of the union, we have mutually agreed to have a neutral mediator involved in our negotiations.”
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