The Catholic Labor Network discussed the continued efforts of student activists and Georgetown University’s fair treatment of adjunct professors Feb. 1 when the university was recognized by the CLN as a model of fair labor and fair labor advocacy.

The panel, which included members of the university’s Advisory Committee on Business Practices and the Licensing Oversight Committee, highlighted Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy, which ensures a living wage for all university employees, including subcontracted workers.

“Georgetown over the years has developed a just employment policy rooted in Catholic social teaching that could really serve as a model for Catholic institutions around the country,” CLN Treasurer Clayton Sinyai said.

Contention with the university’s wage policy arose in 2005 when 26 students involved with the Living Wage Coalition launched a nine day hunger strike to fight for higher wages for university employees.

“Georgetown did not arrive at this policy without difficulty, but with the sustained efforts of students and the commitment of the university administration, Georgetown is now a model of fair labor practices,” Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor staff member Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13) said.

The strike culminated in a new living wage policy that considered the costs of housing, health care, child care, transportation, taxes, food and basic necessities when calculating a wage for its workers. Additionally, the university ensures that all university employees have access to resources such as English as a Second Language classes, Georgetown University Transportations Shuttles and library privileges.

“In Catholic social teaching, labor is rather expansive and has an emphasis on social justice that insists that workers are entitled to a living wage, that they have the right to organize in labor unions and that they are to be treated as ends and not means,” Sinyai said.

The university was also distinguished from its academic peers on the basis of its cooperation with adjunct professors in their efforts to unionize. Georgetown’s adjunct professors unionized in May 2013 under the Services Employee International Union Local 500, facing no opposition from the university.

“In line with Catholic social teaching, Georgetown has said repeatedly that workers have the right to join a union if they choose, that right belongs to the workers alone and nobody is entitled to exercise intimidation to try to force them one way or another,” Sinyai said.

SEIU Director of Research and Strategic Planning Anne McLeer, who attended the meeting, found Georgetown deserving of the honor based on her experience with the adjunct’s union.

“It’s really important to hold up Georgetown as a model of labor relations so that other universities follow, because right now they’re really the only one of the Catholic institutions that is upholding a just employment policy,” McLeer said.

Many of the policies for which Georgetown has received recognition were advanced by the Georgetown Solidarity Committee. Members of the GSC said that while there is still room for improvement, they agree that other universities should follow Georgetown’s model of labor relations.

“Sometimes it’s a little tricky to gain perspective because we only see what’s going on at Georgetown … and we see a lot of things about how labor works at Georgetown that we would like to change and that we think can be improved,” GSC member Caleb Weaver (SFS ’16) said. “It’s much easier to pursue these goals of social justice when everyone in the community is engaged with each other and participating in that dialogue.”

Most recently, the GSC has promoted the university’s signing of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which seeks to improve labor conditions for Bangladeshi workers. The university announced earlier this month that it would require all university trademark licensees who manufacture products using the Georgetown logo that source, produce or purchase goods from Bangladesh to comply with the accord, requiring companies to submit to full, public inspection of factory conditions.

“It’s a way for universities to pressure companies to sign onto the accord and to be accountable for these workers, since it’s really difficult to get individual actions to change,” GSC member Erin Riordan (COL ’15) said.

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