Students with part-time jobs at M Street boutiques earn up to $8.50 an hour, and soon the contracted employees who clean university buildings, prepare students’ food and maintain the grounds on campus will earn the same.

Following an awareness campaign by the Georgetown Solidarity Committee earlier this week, Georgetown administrators said that they remain committed to a promise made this spring that raises all full-time contracted employees’ wages to $8.50 per hour. They have also pledged to offer those employees healthcare benefits by December.

This announcement comes after the university’s guarantee to a committee of students, faculty and staff, pledging to institute the measures by this summer.

In a letter Tuesday sent to the Georgetown Solidarity Committee and campus media, Spiros Dimolitsas, Georgetown’s senior vice president and chief administrative officer, said that the university has negotiated with P&R Enterprises, Inc., the firm with which Georgetown contracts for janitorial services, to amend the current contract and institute the wage increase.

Pending a signature from P&R, the wage increase will be retroactive to July 1, 2004, the date by which the university had originally committed to raise the wages.

“The university is committed to the goals of ensuring a gross hourly wage of at least $8.50 and providing access to health care for its contract employees and is implementing these changes,” Dimolitsas said in the letter.

As for a healthcare provision, Dimolitsas said that P&R is currently surveying its employees to better understand their healthcare needs and reviewing healthcare options to choose a suitable plan that works within guidelines set by their insurance company.

The benefits and wages of employees contracted under other firms, including Marriot and e-Follett, will be discussed under separate negotiations.

According to university spokeswoman Laura Cavender, the hours, wage rates, compensation and contract responsibilities differ between companies.

“The university takes seriously the issues surrounding contractor compensation levels,” Cavender said.

Cavender called the recent announcement a “significant step,” and said that it would cost the university between $150,000 and $180,000 annually.

Currently, the P&R employees in question make $8.30 per hour or less.

According to Cavender, GSC members met with Dimolitsas and Dan Porterfield, vice president for public affairs and strategic development, along with other faculty members during the 2003-04 year and discussed the issue of contract employees’ compensation. This group, Cavender said, assessed the feasibility of a wage and benefit increase in light of the university’s current budget deficit and monetary woes.

These meetings also resulted in the formation of the Advisory Committee on Business Practices, a committee of students, Jesuits, faculty members, administrators and workers that will advise Dimolitsas on worker rights issues and business practices.

The committee, which holds its first meeting Oct. 18, was originally scheduled to meet this summer. According to Dimolitsas, the nomination process of the committee’s members contributed to this delay.

GSC member Ginny Leavell (COL ’05), who has been active in the workers’ compensation issue, called Georgetown’s decision to raise wages an “essential first step,” yet said that more progress can be made.

“Raising wages to $8.50 is a start, but it still puts workers below the federal poverty line. The final outcome must be both affordable health care and a commitment to a living wage policy,” Leavell said.

The GSC has campaigned for a living wage for all employees at Georgetown over the past several years. Founded in 1997, the GSC gained attention in 1998, after members staged successful sit in that forced Georgetown to disclose the use of sweatshops in manufacturing university apparel.

A 2003 GSC report defines the living wage as a wage that supports a sustainable lifestyle, accounting for all of the necessary living expenses – including food, housing, transportation, clothing and healthcare – for workers and their families. The GSC report cites an Economic Policy Institute calculation putting the living wage at $11.87 an hour for a family of four with two working parents.

“We can only call the campaign a success once Georgetown commits to a clear living wage policy,” Leavell said. “As far as the financial situation goes – Georgetown has the funding for this, but it refuses to prioritize it.”

According to GSC member Rachel Murray (SFS ’07), many of the contract employees work during the night as cleaners in the ICC and the Leavey Center. Some work an additional job, leading to many long hours away from their families in order to earn enough to subside.

“Georgetown is a Jesuit institution . people shouldn’t be getting paid poverty wages . that shouldn’t be happening,” Murray said.

Georgetown Economics professor Adhip Chaudhuri said that he felt the call for a living wage reflects current economic realities. According to Chaudhuri, the consumer price index, a measure of the actual costs of living determined by the prices of items that an average family consumes, has risen by over 25 percent in the last 10 years, while the minimum wage has risen by less than $1 in the last eight years.

“There is no way a family can live on minimum wages – they’ll be homeless,” Chaudhuri said.

The current minimum wage in Washington, D.C., is $6.15 an hour, $1 above the federally-set minimum wage.

According to Cavender, full-time university employees, unlike the contracted employees, receive salaries of at least $10.25 an hour, and are granted a benefits package that includes healthcare provisions.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.