Students, local activists protest working conditions in Kogan

Media Credit: Jack Fonseca | Contributing Photo Editor

About 40 students and faculty protested employees' working conditions in Kogan Plaza Wednesday.

About 40 students and activists gathered in Kogan Plaza Wednesday to protest working conditions for employees.

Protesters at the Fair Jobs GW rally, which began at noon on International Workers’ Day, called on officials to give employees more job security and benefits. The rally comes months after members of the organization presented a list of 10 demands to University President Thomas LeBlanc to raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour and to convert existing contract employees, who are employed by a third-party private contractor, into permanent employees hired by the University.

Organizers said officials have declined to address their concerns since the campaign launched, and group members have employed other strategies, like knocking on residence hall doors, to promote their campaign and garner support.

Members of the organization also attended review sessions of LeBlanc last month to bring up their demands again, but students said their concerns were ignored by officials at the meeting.

During the rally, demonstrators shouted chants like “LeBlanc, LeBlanc, you’re no good, pay your workers what you should,” and “outsource LeBlanc.”

Emily Harding, a member of the coordinating committee, said the rally was successful in bringing together a coalition of multiple progressive organizations, including the GW Faculty Association, GW Young Democratic Socialists of America and the Internationalist Students’ Front at GW.

“I think this is exactly what GW’s administration is scared of,” she said. “They’re able, I think, to make this a more marginal issue and it really isn’t. It affects all of us.”

Protestors marched to Alumni House, where LeBlanc and other administrators’ offices are located, and chanted outside for nearly an hour. Three members of the coordinating committee delivered a copy of the letter listing their 10 demands to one of LeBlanc’s assistants, but he declined to speak with organizers.

Freshman Archer Gallivan, who attended the rally, said it is “hypocrisy” for GW to host “extravagant” events like LeBlanc’s $500,000 inauguration ceremony when some employees struggle to afford the cost of living in the District. The Student Association Senate denounced the use of University funds for the ceremony last academic year.

“There is not the same sort of emphasis upon the people we should be valuing the most that are so easily overseen by the student population,” he said.

Ivy Ken, the president of the GW Faculty Association, said the University’s focus on employee culture has been mostly for show and does not address the fundamental issue of low wages. Officials launched a survey through the Disney Institute last fall to identify employee issues with their jobs and formed working groups this spring to work on some of the issues like appreciation.

Ken led protesters in a chant saying, “United we win, divided we’re Disney.”

“We know that it’s a common tactic to keep workers divided and we’re not having it,” she said.

Officials announced a slew of policy changes last month that increased the amount of paid time off employees receive and allowed employees to carry over unused paid leave to another year. Earlier this month, LeBlanc debuted a new policy to give employees the full week between Christmas and New Year off, a move he said earned him “more thanks” than “anything else I’ve done since I got here.”

Activists from other local workers’ rights movements also attended the rally, including Josh Armstead, the vice president of the D.C. chapter of the hospitality workers’ union Unite Here and Mariel De Lourdes, a member of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee.

Armstead, who works at a cafeteria at Georgetown, said workers at GW face a similar issue with increased living costs and continually low salaries as other university employees in the District. He said LeBlanc is not “putting people over profit.”

“It’s a nation of debt,” Armstead said. “It’s a country of debt and we can’t stand for that anymore.”

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