BY MELISSA FOWLER | November 26, 2013
Editor’s Note: This post was adjusted to reflect the correct number of Jesuit universities that have implemented the Jesuit Just Employment Policy on September 10, 2015.
Just a few days after presenting on the same topic at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, Georgetown University’s Nick Wertsch spoke to a group of students at John Carroll University about the Jesuit Just Employment Policy Initiative which is in place at 2 of 28 Jesuit colleges and universities across the country.
Wertsch shared what he has seen as the effects of the Jesuit Just Employment Policy, enacted at Georgetown University in 2005, that protects workers’ rights and dignity-both those who are directly employed by the university and those who work for a subcontractor.
The policy was first put into place at Georgetown following a student protest that began when they discovered that janitors that were university employees were paid much more than janitors who also worked at their school but were hired through a subcontractor. Those hired through a subcontractor were not being paid what is considered a living wage for the area so the students fought for that to change.
From the time that the policy was brought to Georgetown, the university’s students have been able to help make an impact for other workers on their campus that have been treated unfairly or unjustly. One subcontracted Georgetown cafeteria employee, Allissa*, who Wertsch described as someone who brightened students’ days whenever they visited the cafeteria was not, as he put it, treated as well by her employers as her happy demeanor would suggest. When Allissa unexpectedly had an epileptic seizure that landed her in the hospital causing her to miss a day of work, despite her explanation and proof of the situation, her employer still “wrote her up” for missing work saying it was still against company policy. After a student started a conversation with Allissa and found out about this incident students have helped workers like Allissa gain the right to unionize to keep unfair treatment like this from continuing.
A second story Wertsch told involved a restaurant at Georgetown. Some workers discovered that they were not being paid their overtime so they first went to the manager, Mr. Scott* and when nothing was done they pursued legal action to collect the wages they were owed. Mr. Scott then tried to strike a deal with one of the workers promising him advancement at the restaurant for not pursuing his wages and the worker decided not to pursue the legal action. When Georgetown students heard about how the workers were not being paid properly for their work and about the unethical ways of Mr. Scott, they created a petition which garnered enough signatures to change things, and as recently as the last couple of weeks students have met with Mr. Scott, shown him the petition, and he has agreed to follow the university’s Just Employment Policy from now on.
Though these stories shed light on some unjust practices that were exposed at Georgetown, the point of Wertsch’s informational speech and the point of including them here is that even when there are some injustices happening on campuses (because I’m willing to believe Georgetown is just one example of where similar events like this take place), students, faculty, and administrators can and have done something to make the university they call home a better and fairer work environment for the workers that help the university run smoothly, and the university instituting a policy like the Jesuit Just Employment Policy is what allowed the students to take such action and for positive change to occur.
After Wertsch spoke to the group of John Carroll University students about the issue of workers’ rights on college campuses, it sparked some discussion and interest about what can be done to bring a just employment policy to JCU as well. Moving forward, in the coming weeks and months, students who were impacted and encouraged by Wertsch’s talk will be looking to learn more about workers rights’ on their own campus, and I look forward to keeping the ISN community updated on any progress made.
*In order to protect the identities of the workers, their real names have not been included.
Related Video: Ignatian Family Teach-In 2012 main stage presentation on Jesuit Just Employment Policy
Melissa Fowler is a Junior at John Carroll University pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Entrepreneurship. Her interests include: volunteering, education, supporting several non-profits, listening to little known music, going to concerts, writing, basketball, and lacrosse.