Work With Dignity

It is often joked that even the faintest hint of snow will send Washington, D.C., to a screeching halt. For the approximate 200 employees of Georgetown’s Planning and Facilities Management, however, Winter Storm Jonas was no joke. Those who stayed on campus overnight were handed bags containing a blanket, a sheet and a pillow, then told to fend for themselves to find a place to sleep. This past Wednesday, students in the Georgetown Solidarity Committee protested these conditions, handing a list of demands to university President John J. DeGioia, Vice President of Planning and Facilities Management Robin Morey, Chief Operating Officer Chris Augostini, Business Policy and Planning Director Cal Watson and Vice President of Public Affairs and Senior Advisor to the President Erik Smulson. The university has an obligation to care for those who care for our students and faculty; students ought to rally behind a cause that addresses the university’s failure to enforce fair business practices. While the audacity of this campaign is admirable, there is still work to be done to smooth out some of the demands that are disjointed and vague.

GSC’s recent effort, “A Call for Work With Dignity,” lists the demands under three categories: accountability with and for others, hiring and staffing a community in diversity, and “Cura Personnel-is.” All three include a variety of reasonable demands for a university whose much-touted Just Employment Policy aims to protect workers and the rights they deserve. Written demands such as making public “a detailed plan of how the University [sic] will operate when weather conditions create a state of emergency in D.C., including paid leave for workers unable to make it to campus and adequate sleeping accommodations for all workers remaining overnight” directly address the problematic manner with which the administration has handled working conditions during severe weather. The same is the case for the enforcement of a “transparent [and] impartial process for determining overtime and work assignments.” These are cogent requirements that, if implemented, will prevent the shameful lack of worker accommodations from happening when the next winter storm hits.

Nevertheless, it is important that this effort does not get bogged down by some of its less reasonable and often disconnected demands. Requests for a “process through which student workers can receive raises above the minimum wage on the basis of seniority” or to “replace any student jobs lost in RHO restructuring or other similar changes” deviate from the movement’s main goal. This isn’t to say that calls for the university to “provide training opportunities for workers who want to gain the skills necessary for advancement within their department” should be disregarded. However, in order to ensure the best chance of success, institutional change requires focused efforts, not a shotgun approach.

This broader approach risks confusing students and administrators alike as to what demand is supposed to solve what problem. A clear and concise list is better than one whose length detracts from its clarity and strength.

GSC’s list of demands is well-built and, for the most part, offers logical and reasonable methods through which the university’s failure to enforce fair business practices can be amended. If students are to rally behind their cause in the long-term, however, a more focused movement is needed.

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