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Serving the GW Community since 1904

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Students march to District House dining hall to show solidarity for dining workers demanding better wages

Jennifer Igbonoba | Staff Photographer
Students and dining employees marched from Kogan Plaza to the dining hall in the District House basement Monday.

Roughly two dozen students marched from Kogan Plaza to the District House dining hall to show support for food service employees demanding improved wages and respect from management Monday.

Students and dining employees walked to DC Taco House, a food vendor in the basement of District House, and delivered a letter to a GW Dining official by the taco restaurant that demanded better wages and treatment from management. Student leaders and dining workers said the protest demonstrated students’ solidarity in advocating for dining employees employed through Compass Group, the parent company of the University’s food service vendor Chartwells Higher Education. 

Tracie Thompson, an employee at a vendor in District House, said employees “can’t live” off the minimum wage they receive despite Compass Group’s valuation of more than $25 billion, according to the company’s annual reportThompson said Compass management is not doing “their part of the work” and that demonstrators aimed to advocate for fair wages, free health insurance and respect through their march. 

“We’re at minimum wages and that’s not fair living for us to pay our bills,” Thompson said. “You can’t buy chicken or bread with your paycheck you bring home when your rent is 1,500 or 2,000.”

The University partnered with Chartwells Higher Education to provide campus dining services at all-you-can-eat dining halls in Shenkman and Thurston Hall and vendors in District House in 2021. UNITE HERE Local 23 – a branch of a labor union that represents hundreds of thousands of service workers – is currently in negotiations with Compass Group to demand at least a $20 minimum wage for dining workers employed through the company at institutions like the World Bank, American University and GW.

A Compass Group job posting for a food service position at Shenkman currently offers employees a $16.80 starting wage, 70 cents more than the current D.C. minimum wage of $16.10. Full-time Compass Group employees are eligible for medical, dental and vision benefits, while both part-time and full-time workers can access “health and wellness programs,” according to the job posting.

A spokesperson for Chartwells Higher Education said Friday officials will continue to bargain in good faith during negotiations with UNITE HERE Local 23 to reach a new agreement that is “fair to all.” The spokesperson said the union postponed the timing for their next meeting, but officials are “glad” they will reconvene in “just over a week.”

The spokesperson declined to say what benefits Compass Group offers its food service employees.

“We’re eager to provide increases to our employees and give them clarity as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said in an email Friday.

University spokesperson Julia Metjian deferred comment to Chartwells Higher Education because dining staff are employed through the company.

Julian Abeledo, a junior studying civil engineering and one of the protest organizers, said the action was the first “big” show of student support for dining workers at GW compared to efforts at American and Catholic universities.

UNITE HERE Local 23 partnered with GW student organization Students Against Imperialism to host a teaching event April 20. The branch collaborated with American University’s Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter to host a similar event March 28 and Catholic University’s Progressive Student Union March 24. 

“It’s a lot more developed at AU and Catholic, where they’ve had this solidarity planning going on for many months now,” Abeledo said. “But I think this is an important step forward here at GW. It’s an important first step towards building more concrete solidarity in the future.”

Abeledo said he heard about the effort to improve workers’ treatment at the University through his involvement in local labor organizations and connections with union organizers.

“If I’m a student at this university, it’s my responsibility to support the workers who are here feeding the students every single day,” Abeledo said.

Abeledo said the protest sent a “good message to management” by showing student solidarity with the workers’ demands. He said the future of further solidarity protests depends on if the University meets the workers’ demands, and that holding demonstrations in the dining halls with megaphones, which was done at American, could be an option if demands are not met.

“We’re not gonna let them trample over the workers’ rights,” Abeledo said.

Jovanna Walker, the vice president of student organization Black Defiance, said she doesn’t believe the GW community is “receptive” to the idea of standing in solidarity with campus workers but that Black Defiance hopes to support future demonstrations for dining workers.

“Any other action they plan to have, we hope to be here, stand in solidarity, and give our resources, energy, time in any way possible,” Walker said.

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