No one should be treated better than the people that feed us. As much as Georgetown students love to complain about Leo’s, as freshmen and sophomores we bond over shared meals at our beloved O’Donovan’s on the Waterfront. Upperclassmen not lucky enough to be SEALs (or, “Seniors Eating At Leo’s,” for those not in the know) reminisce about partaking in the most sacred of all Georgetown traditions — Chicken Finger Thursday. The people that work to make these valuable experiences possible deserve our utmost respect.
However, respecting the people that work hard day in and day out to serve our university community does not necessarily mean supporting minimum wage laws or the so-called “living wage.”
Despite all of the good intentions behind proposals such as these, the unintended consequences from them would likely do more harm than good.
Policies and legislation that aim to mandate higher wages ostensibly for the sake of workers usually result in overall lower employment and fewer hours worked as companies have to find other places to cut costs.
Additionally, they lead to greater inflation as prices have to rise to pay for the higher salaries. As a result, low-wage workers do not enjoy a real increase in income because goods become more expensive.
San Francisco is one of a handful of cities providing a real-time example of how this plays out as it begins to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. While still only two months into the first phase of the five-year wage hike, one business has already almost faced a shutdown.
Borderland Books pays its employees the minimum and is facing a 39 percent payroll increase over the next five years. Given the obstacles it faced from such an increase in expenses, it was scheduled to close its doors in March before fundraisers provided a temporary reprieve. Nevertheless, relying on public donations is not a long-term business strategy and will not be enough to prevent reduced growth in minimum wage sectors and further job losses.
The policies proposed in the petition currently circling regarding Aramark, although a hyper-local issue, would similarly have tangible consequences for students and workers. These proposals aim to increase workers’ benefits packages, resulting in the same effects as wage hikes.
As The Hoya published last week, the petition supports, “a 40-hour paid work week, an increase in health care benefits, the protection of immigrant workers, anti-discrimination rules and greater involvement in food sustainability discussions on campus.”
It remains unclear how, exactly, food sustainability discussions play into the way workers are treated or compensated, but, regardless, it is a provision like the others that would raise costs.
At Leo’s, Hoya Court and other Aramark-run establishments, instituting these changes could mean less staffing and higher prices for meal plans that many students are already struggling to pay for.
As the saying goes, not all that glitters is gold. Students’ desire to involve themselves in the contract negotiation process comes from a noble and well-intentioned place. However, Aramark employees at Georgetown already have a union and collective bargaining rights. As Karen Cutler, Director of Corporate Communications for Aramark, said via email, “the wages and benefits for our employees at Georgetown are agreed to by the union and set by the collective bargaining agreement.”
Students should not interfere in the workers’ process just so they can pat themselves on the back, feeling as if they helped to accomplish something without initiating any real change. Advocating for initiatives that expand low-wage workers’ opportunities and ability to climb the ladder to the middle class, such as by easing occupational licensure requirements and improving public school education, would be a more efficient use of students’ energy.
Cutler noted that Aramark itself provides “a variety of benefits, including health care benefits and training opportunities for our employees” that help to enhance opportunities.
Whether at the macro level of cities or on our own campus, poverty cannot be mandated away through wage hikes.
Given the damaging effects that come from minimum wage laws such as less employment and inflation, policies that aim to make earning low wages a temporary state of life would better serve workers.
Instead of wishful thinking or advocating the seemingly simple solution, comprehensive reforms are needed to improve the lives of low-wage workers and expand the middle class.

Mallory Carr is a senior in the College. The Right Corner appears every other Friday.

9 Comments

  1. This sort of argument has become tired to the point of inducing nausea. And regurgitation does not increase its strength. Despite the author’s confidence, empirical studies remain inconclusive as to the employment effects of minimum wage laws; and some people care more for worker justice than they fear marginal cost increases and other boogeymen.

    It’s disingenuous of any author to open this sort of an argument by claiming that “no one should be treated better than the people that feed us.” Ms. Carr’s protest aside, you can’t respect work and workers unless you pay them a living wage.

    Worse still, this article misleads. It distances the petition circulated by the Georgetown Solidarity Committee from worker demands, writing “students should not interfere in the workers’ process just so they can pat themselves on the back, feeling as if they helped to accomplish something without initiating any real change.” And yet, worker demands form the core of the petition; workers have joined with the petitioners in protests; and students have initiated real change for workers time and time again at Georgetown.

    It’s deeply troubling that this sort of malicious and uninformed click-bait should ever hit print.

  2. Mallory, I regularly read your column because the conservative perspective tends not to get public air on campus and it’s important to see perspectives like your. That said, I think this one was a little short sighted and not well researched.

    1) The policies advocated by Aramark worker supporters aren’t just a blanket wage increase. If you read the recent feature in the Voice, you’ll see the advocacy is for guaranteed 40-hour workweeks and the same kinds of health insurances Aramark workers at other universities receive. Additionally, the policies you mention are good ideas, but are not mutually exclusive with wage increases.

    2) It’s a weak example to use a small anecdote of San Fran. You picked one store, a bookstore, which in general is an industry facing contraction. A better example would have been to look at DC’s minimum wage increases. The DC council commissioned studies that showed little to no impact on employment. Perhaps a better column would have examined the underlying assumptions and methodology and critiqued those beyond repeating oft-said conservative rhetoric.

    3) There may be some feel-good students advocating for Aramark workers, but many don’t do it for any self gain and have studied and involved themselves in justice and labor work for a long time. Additionally, if you inform yourself of the movement, you’ll realize workers want and appreciate student support and feel the union bargaining process is only superficially powerful.

    Wage economics is a dense and heavily studied field. It’s a little condescending to think your fellow students in the movement have not studied this literature and come to the conclusion raising the minimum wage for Aramark workers is a net positive.

  3. Another Student says:

    While I agree with some of the points the previous commenters raised, there are significant problems raised by the proposals. Ms. Carr even alludes to some of these, writing: “At Leo’s, Hoya Court and other Aramark-run establishments, instituting these changes could mean less staffing and higher prices for meal plans that many students are already struggling to pay for.”

    What we need to consider is what would happen if a 40-hour workweek were to be instituted for Leo’s employees (thereby conferring them healthcare and other benefits, significantly raising costs for Aramark). Aramark would likely cut down on the number of employees here; even ignoring the cost increases from health insurance, you need fewer employees if each employee starts working more hours per week (unless you’re going to need more man-hours to get the same stuff done every week, which is unlikely). Getting some percentage of Leo’s employees fired probably isn’t the goal of this movement, but it’s a very possible consequence (even just the weekly hours increases alone). It’s also quite likely that raising the costs of employing someone (largely through requiring that Aramark provide health insurance) will mean that fewer Leo’s employees will be on shift at any given time, which could result in even longer delays for things like pasta and cups, two of the biggest complains I typically have (and often hear). Finally, significantly raising the costs of labor at Leo’s will probably end up raising the costs of meal plans that even students receiving financial aid have to pay for out-of-pocket (though the cost will be at least partially taken into account when determining financial aid awards).

    While it’s great to see students caring about their community and Umberto/Suru/Ripai is a great guy, students should focus on improving conditions for students first before worrying about employee benefit structures and supporting Leo’s workers dealing with side-effects of the ACA. That’s the workers’ union’s job. There might be some overlap, but for the most part students and workers have very different interests in this situation.

  4. Wasn’t the author the person who heckled the rally at Hoya Court two weeks ago? Looks like she is trying to get back at GSC for ruining her GUSA campaign, haha!

  5. It’s awfully presumptuous of you to assume that you know what our motives are in supporting the workers. What makes you think we just want to pat ourselves on the back? If you really believe that nothing is being accomplished, that indicates your ignorance about the realities on this campus.

    I would highly recommend asking a food service worker on campus for their input. You would learn right away that supporting their struggle does in fact “initiate real change.” There are workers who can’t afford healthcare, workers who can’t pay their bills, workers who suffer discrimination on the job, workers dealing with unsafe conditions, and multiple workers currently experiencing homelessness due to economic hardship. Does addressing these problems sound like “real change” to you?

    And if you think that “respecting workers does not necessarily mean supporting living wage laws,” you have a very strange definition of ‘respect.’

  6. If students REALLY want to support Aramark employees they need to sign a petition that says they will NOT get a LEOS plan next year if things don’t change.

    They need to outline these clear changes and make sure they are achievable (food sustainability may not work). Then they need to get as many signatures as they can. Now each signature to Aramark means a loss in revenue; otherwise, they will just ignore the student petition because it’s too abstract.

    • You’re right that that’s the only way for students to actually have power over this issue, but unfortunately the University would simply mandate that more students purchase meal plans (as they already have recently). It’s hard to threaten not to buy something if the people you’re protesting can effectively force you to buy it anyway.

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