Contract negotiations between the Georgetown University Dining Services employees’ union and its employer, Aramark Higher Education, had been left hanging for over a month when workers decided to demonstrate in O’Donovan Hall on Jan. 28.

After the rally, conversations immediately resumed and a tentative three-year contract agreement was reached Feb. 7.

The contract, which was ratified in early March and signed in mid-April, secured a 50-cent-per-hour wage increase for each of the next three years and includes coverage of 80 percent of employees’ health care costs for the next two years and 85 percent during the third year of the contract.

This year’s raise retroactively covers all hours worked since Feb. 1, and a $200 signing bonus per employee went into effect April 19, according to Leo’s employee Dante Crestwell, who was involved in the discussions.

These gains mark significant progress after 10 months of official negotiations between university employees and Aramark. But the road to the formation of a union and a better contract began with an underground movement two years earlier.

Organization of the union and identification of goals — higher wages, provision of health insurance, better shift scheduling and increased opportunities for advancement — originally grew out of discussions between students and university employees.

“Students organized me, not UNITE HERE,” Tarshea Smith, who helped organize the union and has worked at Leo’s for 18 years, said. UNITE HERE, the umbrella organization that houses the union, represents members of the food, airport, hotel and other industries. “I already had a relationship with [the students].”

Advocacy for a union also developed out of a widespread desire among workers for a greater voice.

“Before, our relationship with [Aramark] wasn’t good at all. Our managers and supervisors didn’t respect us,” Smith said.

Although they were not part of the actual contract negotiations, about 60 student leaders from groups across campus collaborated to provide support for the workers.

“The idea behind this committee is that it would be as broad-reaching across the student body and as diverse as possible,” Samuel Geaney-Moore (SFS ’12), a member of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee and an integral member of the student coalition, said.

For Geaney-Moore, working with the union was a formative experience.

“It’s the most meaningful thing I’ve ever worked on in my life,” he said. “It did what we were hoping to do. … Workers are understood and treated [as] a part of the Georgetown community.”

The union now plans to focus on securing better pensions and retirement plans as well as further educating university employees about their rights.

But to Smith, the most important result of unionization for workers — and what they need to be aware of — is their increased job security.

“It’s different now. Because we have a union, you don’t have to be afraid and think you’re going to lose your job,” she said. “Now we have a voice.”

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