Image Courtesy of Mariah Solis
By Mariah Solis
Six campus organizations held a solidarity meeting with the Catholic University (CUA) food-service workers on Friday, March 24, in the Caldwell Auditorium. During the meeting, the workers and their union, UNITE HERE Local 23, shared an online petition and invited students to join a protest outside of the World Bank on April 12 at 4 p.m. to show support amid their contract negotiations with Compass Group USA, which Chartwells operates under.
The “Worker Teach-Out” event was hosted by the CUA Progressive Student Union (PSU), Black Student Alliance (BSA), Filipino Organization of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), CUA Student Organization of Latinos, Migrant Rights Coalition, and CUA College Democrats. This meeting follows the PSU meeting in September 2022, where students listened to CUA dining workers discuss their current working conditions and desire for a higher wage.
During the teach-out, students were invited to sign an online petition saying that Compass workers need a raise. Anthony Randolph, D.C. Chapter President for Local 23, discussed how the experiences of the workers at CUA are part of a bigger D.C. issue amongst other university food-service workers operating under Compass Group. Local 23 briefly shared some context to the current situation, saying that Compass Group has been resistant to bargaining the contract but after action across various institutions, agreed to open back up the conversation.
“We are bargaining with the company on April 5th and 6th. We don’t know how that outcome may be, but if the company doesn’t act right, we’re planning action on April 12th, and we want everyone to participate in this action,”said Randolph.
The union is aware that several important individuals have meetings at the World Bank in the spring and want those business leaders to hear directly from Compass workers. Randolph added that the union would provide bus transportation to students wishing to participate, particularly to those who let him know after the meeting. They passed out flyers to the students present, saying to meet on 18th Street & H Street NW at 4 p.m. on April 12.
The food-service workers were also invited to speak to the students about their fight for a livable wage. Many of them discussed their hours getting cut, causing them to not receive adequate healthcare.
Willie Joyner, who is well known for her caring attitude and welcoming conversations with students, shared her personal journey in the industry for the past 49 years, especially when it comes to contract negotiations and low wages.
“We are trying so hard to make sure we get a decent living,” Joyner stated.
She also pointed out that most of the employees have roughly nine months to work at CUA before the summer, a season with lower hours or none at all. Therefore, their wages are not only needed for current necessities but must also be saved for the summer too.
“No matter what it is, we will never get enough to say we are comfortable, but we’d like to get close,” Joyner said. “I don’t know how to strike but I know it’s out there. I don’t know how to protest, but I know we can do it.”
Joyner also wanted to express her willingness to listen to students if they wanted to share anything that could improve their dining experiences.
“We’re trying so hard to make sure that y’all get served properly, but we’re also trying so hard to make sure we get paid properly. I thank you again guys. The union is very important to me,” Joyner concluded.
Tabitha Johnson, who works in the campus Starbucks and Garvey Hall, emphasized how she and most of her colleagues are not just financially supporting themselves, but other family members too.
“We spend more time here with you than we do at home with our families, since most of us work six or seven hours a week, ten hour days, because we need to be able to sustain in D.C. We all know how the cost of living in D.C. is right now,” Johnson said. “We have people who have been here 20 years still making 17 dollars an hour.”
She also talked about how she has lupus, making healthcare extremely important to her.
“They know that the less hours, the less they have to pay for healthcare,” Johnson said. “So, we’re in a fight right now, in a big fight. We’ve had companies in the past that we weren’t too happy with, but they weren’t as disrespectful and outright aggressive as this company is.”
Students were also given a chance to share words of encouragement and support during the event.
Tyrica Edmonds-Miller, vice president for Black Student Alliance, said, “BSA aims to create a safe space for Black students on campus through our events, and as you know, the majority of our staff share our identities. Many of them bring a lot of comfort to Black students, helping us feel a bit more at home at Catholic,” she stated. “Tonight, BSA is here to show our support in the fight for our staff to get better wages, healthcare, and overall job security. Our staff is not only worth our love and our support, but worth advocating with to get them the resources that they deserve.”
She thanked the staff for sharing their experiences and encouraged students and parents to send emails supporting the workers.
“I have never skipped a class, but I will be skipping class to support on April 12. I expect to see y’all there,” she said.
Brian Melendez, vice president of the Migrant Rights Coalition, started by sharing that the organization he represents focuses on advocacy work for migrants, immigrants, refugees, and first-generation Americans.
“As an E-Board, we care about our workers and making sure that they are getting treated fairly and that they get a fair contract.”
He acknowledged that the CUA workforce is also made up of immigrants and expressed how he wants them to feel supported. He also shared how his parents have experienced the brunt of bad management and its negative impacts on health insurance. Furthermore, he empathized with the workers due to his own experience in the food industry.
Liam Jamolod, vice president of FOCUS, shared how Filipino culture focuses on family, and expressed that the dining workers are also considered CUA’s family, showing his gratitude towards them.
“The hard work they do often goes unnoticed, so it is up to us to educate ourselves on the problems they’re facing and show them our love,”Jamolod said.
Jack Kruger, junior politics major and president of PSU, emphasized the importance of solidarity.
“Solidarity isn’t just a noun, it’s a verb,” Kruger said. “And you all proved that by showing up today, by speaking, by signing forms, by signing petitions, so thank you all again for showing up here.”
Andrew Green, president of CUA College Democrats, shared how the organization has successfully volunteered to support fair contracts in the past.
“Reaching a fair contract in unions is not just a Democrat or Republican issue, but a human issue,” Green said.
Green spoke about “subsidiarity”as a principle of Catholic Social Teaching, stating, “[W]e cannot thrive unless every single person, and every single organization, is treated fairly, and this includes a fair contract.”
Clayton Sinyai, Executive Director of the Catholic Labor Network, also spoke about the history of the Catholic Church in support of unions and labor rights, which started with Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII.
Dr. William A. Barbieri, professor of ethics at the School of Theology and Religious Studies, was also invited to speak about the history of labor activism within the Catholic Church, particularly through the work of “labor priests.” He highlighted the works and quotes of two famous labor priests that were also former CUA faculty members: Father John Ryan, who wrote a book about livable wages, and Monsignor George Higgins, who advocated for labor rights and worked with American labor leaders like Cesar Chavez.
Dr. Barbieri concluded his talk by saying, “I hope you students will continue to come out and support the workers here, and I hope you will all be out there on April 12.”