The facilities workers at Georgetown University recently finalized talks with the university to renew their contracts which expired on October 30. While the workers’ union SEIU 1199 East had originally petitioned for a 6% annual increase in wages, the union and the university ultimately settled for a 2% wage increase on top of DC’s coming minimum wage hike.
Many workers expressed their disappointment with the agreement. One Georgetown employee singled out SEIU’s role in the matter. “I have been here four years. We have had three different representatives. The main person who represents us comes in, introduces us to other people and we don’t see him anymore,” the employee told The Hoya. “With the amount of money that we are making versus paying the union, as far as I am concerned, they can get rid of the union. It does nothing for us.”
The recent wage negotiations demonstrate the incompetence of unions at Georgetown. Claiming to represent their workers’ best interests, the SEIU buckled under the weight of the administration’s pressure, failing to help its workers. It is telling that past student activism on campus has yielded more favorable results for workers than the SEIU has.
On top of its failure to represent workers adequately at the negotiating table, the SEIU has also failed to secure healthcare benefits for university workers. Georgetown University offers its own sponsored healthcare plans to full-time workers, including “staff employee[s], including members of the Allied International and 1199 SEIU Unions, hired to work 30 or more hours per week.” The CareFirst BlueChoice Advantage CDH 2015 Plan, for example, is even offered to temporary employees who work at least 30 hours. Even without the SEIU’s intervention, Georgetown employees have several reasonable options for employer-sponsored healthcare.
Exactly how much are workers paying for this union “representation”? The SEIU does not openly display membership dues or fees on its website. However, such information is available on the website of SEIU Healthcare 1199 Northwest, a comparable union in Washington state. For workers in this network, SEIU 1199NW requires 1.8% of their gross monthly pay (i.e. income before taxes) with a cap of $90 per month. With the DC minimum wage of $11.50, a worker who works 8 hours a day for 22 days a month would have to pay $36.43 a month in union dues, totaling $437.18 by the end of the year.
In essence, facilities workers are paying nearly $450 a year for a union that does not adequately represent their interests during wage negotiations. At their best, unions at Georgetown are simply ineffectual in representing workers. At their worst, however, the unions are downright hostile. This hostility was on full display in February 2016, when Georgetown University adjunct professor Matthew Devost resigned after being harassed by representatives from SEIU Local 500. Devost initially refused to pay union fees due to a previous negative experience, in which a representative “stalked” and cajoled him after classes. Initially petitioning for an exemption from paying fees due to a conflict of interest, which would substituted with a comparable charitable donation, the union rejected Devost’s request. Ultimately, union pressure alienated Devost from the university, leaving his students and the university as a whole worse off.
Facilities workers should not have to stand for such poor representation from the unions. There are many ways in which employees at Georgetown can develop the skills to better negotiate with the university. The DC government hosts an array of services that help workers to develop valuable skills and to explore career networks for jobs with appropriate pay scales. Workers should not have to rely on the SEIU for valuable employment opportunities, and these failed wage negotiations provide another example as to why.