Long-time staff uncertain as GW prepares for dining revamp

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Photo Editor
J Street employees are still unsure of their future at GW as the University prepares to scale down the dining program. The phasing out of J Street leaves the Foggy Bottom campus without a traditional dining hall. Dan Rich | Photo Editor

As officials prepare to scale down the University’s largest dining hall, workers there still don’t know if they will have jobs in the fall.

Dining workers in J Street, the only dining hall on the Foggy Bottom Campus, said University officials have offered few specifics about the transition to the new dining partner, Restaurant Associates, or about the future “open dining” policy. Those employees said they are concerned they won’t be able to provide for their families and won’t have enough time to find other employment if they are cut from the staff.

“Everybody’s wondering the same thing,” one worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. “Coming back in August, what’s going to happen? We don’t where we are going to go next. There are some older people here. Who’s going to hire us?”

In March, officials announced they would launch a new open dining program next fall when Restaurant Associates takes over for Sodexo as GW’s dining provider. The new plan would allow students to spend all their dining money at any location that accepts GWorld, no longer mandating that students spend an allotted amount of dining dollars at on-campus venues.

As part of the plan, officials said J Street will become a “more modest dining option.”

In a March press release, officials said Restaurant Associates anticipated “a reduction of fewer than 10 staff at GW.” The company said they would potentially move workers to other dining venues run by Restaurant Associates and current dining partner Sodexo in the D.C. area.

Since then, J Street workers said the only information they have received about the transition was a brief meeting with Restaurant Associates staff in April, during which staff cuts were not discussed. Last week, workers received a letter with their paychecks that said Restaurant Associates will take over catering at GW and that current dining staff are invited to a July “meet and greet” with representatives from the company.

Dining employees said there were not aware of proposed changes to the Marvin Center or the new dining program until they met with members of Fair Jobs GW, a student-run campaign to protect dining workers’ jobs.

The workers also said officials from the University and Restaurant Associates have not updated staff members on which positions they anticipate cutting.

“We don’t know where we going, so many people are very concerned, and some people do have fears,” the employee said. “This job means a lot. That’s their livelihood. It feeds their family. I have a house, and I want to keep my home. I need my job.”

Alicia Knight, senior associate vice president for operations, said Restaurant Associates wants to finalize a new contract with UNITE HERE Local 23 – the union representing campus dining workers – by the time the company officially takes over in July.

“The University continues to work with Sodexo and Restaurant Associates during the dining program transition,” she said.

Knight said Restaurant Associates officials told dining workers in last month’s meeting that they intend to honor “both seniority and wages.”

Even though dining workers are contracted to outside corporations, workers said they still hold the University partially responsible for the uncertainty over their job statuses.

“The University said they have nothing to do with it because we are contracted workers, so they’re taking their foot out of it,” another dining staff member said.

Members of the Fair Jobs GW campaign have circulated a petition – which received more than 2,000 signatures – demanding that all employees remain at GW during the transition.

Progressive Student Union members and two Student Association senators met with Knight last month to discuss worker retention. Henry Klapper, a former Hatchet reporter and PSU member who attended the meeting, said both sides wanted to reach a compromise, but officials “gave us a run around.”

“Even though she said she would like to work with us, she was unable to compromise by any means,” he said.

PSU members asked to relocate dining workers to the vendors that will open in the basement of District House this fall, Klapper said. Because those vendors will be managed independently of the campus dining system, Knight told them in the meeting that it wouldn’t be possible, he said.

In response, the group organized a 33 hour-long hunger strike in Kogan Plaza last month: one minute for each signature they received on the petition.

Klapper said the dining workers are an important part of the community on campus.

“People honestly love these workers, and we do too, and they are part of our GW community,” Klapper said. “The level of treatment that they are getting from the school is appalling.”

PSU member Sam Tiratto said it was a “human issue.” He said the lack of transparency underscored what he called the inequality between workers at GW.

“It’s the age old story of feast or famine,” he said. “You have school administrators who make a lot of money and these workers – I can’t fathom how they’re so expendable to the University.”

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