CHARLIE LOWE/THE HOYA Aramark workers, including Leo’s employees, are pursuing more workers’ rights in a new contract. The current one expires in March.
Aramark workers, including Leo’s employees, are pursuing more workers’ rights in a new contract. The current one expires in March.

Aramark workers on campus are engaged in efforts to renegotiate their contract with the company, demanding better work and wage conditions, since their current three-year contract expires in March.

A group of 20 Aramark workers from O’Donovan Hall, Cosi and Starbucks and a group of 30 students from the Georgetown Solidarity Committee marched together to Aramark leadership at Leo’s Friday to present their demands. In addition, “Equality at Georgetown,” an online petition created two weeks ago by the Georgetown Solidarity Committee in support of the workers’ demands, has already amassed over 900 student and community member signatures.

Georgetown Aramark workers from Leo’s, Cosi and Starbucks unionized in March 2011 under UNITE HERE, a company that provides guidance to over 90,000 food service employees around the world. The company runs an office on K Street in Washington, D.C., as well as other offices around the country.

The workers have utilized the union in the past to renegotiate contracts, specifically in March 2012, when they negotiated a three-year contract with Aramark that provided workers with a 50-cent-per-hour wage increase and coverage of 85 percent of their health care costs by the third year. This contract expires this March, and the employees are now involved in contract renegotiations with Aramark leadership.

The workers’ demands include a 40-hour paid workweek, better benefits and raises, protection for immigrant workers and sustainable food practices for on-campus food.

Georgetown Aramark employee and union representative Rhonda Smith said that the workers are fighting for rightful treatment and respect.

“I want every worker to have a 40-hour pay week — paid hours,” Smith said. “I want every worker to have his or her pay raised. I want every worker to have dignity and respect. I want every worker to have their job protected by the union. I want better health plans, loyal health plans.”

Currently, Aramark workers do not receive the benefits that come along with a 40-hour work week such as health insurance and raises even if they are working up to 37 hours a week. In addition, workers are not provided with sustainable food to serve in the dining hall for students and receive minimal protection for immigrant workers.

Unionized Aramark workers at other universities in the area including American University and The Catholic University of America have already successfully negotiated contracts to achieve these goals.

Smith said that UNITE HERE has provided employees with advice and encouragement during the contract renegotiation.

“They [the union] have been helping a lot,” Smith said. “They are in touch with us every day. They help us talk to people, get our petitions signed, educate people, and what not. They help [teach] us how to talk to people, what to do. We just came from a meeting — they help us learn how to talk to the managers when they are doing something wrong. They’ve been really good.”

Aramark’s Director of Corporate Communications Karen Cutler said that Aramark will work to bargain with the union in the coming months.

“Aramark has hundreds of collective bargaining agreements around the country with the various unions who represent our employees,” Cutler wrote in an email. “Negotiating union collective bargaining agreements are a routine part of business. At Georgetown, we are committed to bargaining in good faith and are working hard with union representatives to come to an agreement that works for everyone. We had a productive meeting this week and hope to have a new agreement soon.”

Aramark manages over 260,000 employees worldwide with a revenue of $13.51 billion dollars as of 2012. The company has been criticized in the past for various claims of mistreatment and uncleanliness. For example, in 2012, an Aramark regional manager sent an email to all employees that warned them that unionizing could lead to job termination. In addition, in February 2012, the Health Department found that 14 Aramark-run cafeterias in New Orleans received critical violations, four of which were for rat feces.

The petition is still active, and GSC President Clara Mejia (COL ’17) said that they hope to reach 2,000 signatures by March. They will deliver the petition to Aramark management the second week of February after negotiations continue to develop to encourage more compromise between Aramark and the worker’s union. They will continue to request signatures from students by presenting their goals to classes with the help of Aramark workers and advertising the petition on social media.

“These workers are an integral and valued part of our community and we need to stand in solidarity and fight with them,” Mejia said. “Given its history and mission of standing in solidarity with the workers and advocating for them, GSC started the petition to bring awareness at the lack of a fair and just contract in Leo’s and to reaffirm student solidarity with campus workers.”

GSC helped workers unionize in 2011 and has remained an active partner with them since then. They provide a hotline for workers to call about work-related grievances, meet one-on-one with employees, and host events and appreciation meals for all workers on campus. Mejia said that students at Georgetown must advocate for the employees around them.

“As students, it is our responsibility to advocate for the needs of workers because they too form part of our Georgetown community,” Mejia said. “In addition, student presence and support will pressure Aramark into giving the workers a more fair contract they deserve.”

Aramark worker Rhonda Smith said that student help in this campaign has been invaluable.

“It’s awesome,” Smith said. “They care. They back us 100 percent. When we went to go serve them the petitions they were right there by our side. Last time we heard we had 900 signatures from Georgetown students. They are concerned. The community and the university, the Jesuit community, they all support us.”

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