(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Student protestors at Georgetown University savored their success at a celebration Friday afternoon, after a hunger strike won higher wages and better benefits for some university workers.
A crowd of about 200 students, staff and special guests celebrated with festivities including a lavish picnic. Speakers at the celebration included DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton, a Georgetown law professor.
“The Georgetown hunger strikers are emblematic of the new generation of student activists we saw in the 2004 presidential campaign who refuse to be sidelined on the justice issues of their time,” Holmes-Norton said in a statement on her Web site. “The Georgetown students, many of them from privileged backgrounds, were not willing to receive the services of workers without being assured that they received a living wage, other benefits, and the opportunity to join a union.”
Twenty-six students participated in the nine-day hunger strike, a campaign by the Georgetown Living Wage Coalition.
On March 24, the nine-day hunger strike ended when the university announced that it would comply with nearly all of the coalition’s demands. It agreed to raise the hourly wages of nearly all the 450 contract employees which mostly include janitors, food service employees and security personnel.
“These are people we see everyday, who make it possible for us to go to class,” Diane Foglizzo, a 21-year-old protestor, told the Washington Post on March 21. “We can affect their lives directly now.”
For nine days, student protestors drank only water and juice. Some students setup a large white tent in the middle of campus for medical attention and to attract attention to the campaign.
Students said the strikes would not stop until the university officials met their demands.
“It was crazy to walk by this big tent in the middle of campus and see all of these really passionate students being totally unselfish,” said GU freshman Matt Skinner, who supported the coalition’s efforts but chose not to participate in the hunger strike. “I’m really glad that the university was able to come to their senses and respect the students’ efforts.”
The university president could not be reached for comment. According to GLWC’s Web site, strike participants lost a combined total of 270 pounds. The university sent letters to protestors’ parents telling them to encourage their children to eat. Several students required medical attention, some even taken to the hospital.
The average worker currently receives $11.33 an hour, which includes wages and benefits, according to a Georgetown spokeswoman. According to the university’s new “Just Employment Policy,” contract workers will receive $13 per hour by July 1 of this year, and $14 by July 1, 2007.
Beginning this July, workers hired directly will receive a minimum of $14.08 per hour. The rates will be adjusted in the future accordingly to deal with inflation.
“I can’t imagine having to support a family on such a small salary,” said sophomore Sheryl Dambreville, “The workers I’ve seen around campus seem a lot happier now in doing their jobs. There’s nothing specific that I’ve noticed but just a few more smiles from them.”
GLWC defines a living wage as the total compensation a family needs to meet its basic needs without any public or private assistance. The wage doe not account for emergency needs and long term expenses, such as purchasing a car and only provides enough income to cover basic housing and nutrition costs.
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