One way Catholic institutions can demonstrate their faith – and evangelize the world – is by honoring Catholic Social Teaching in their labor relations practices. Many do this by recognizing and bargaining with unions representing their employees and by paying a living wage to workers in all job classifications; some do so by obliging their service contractors to do the same. Georgetown University has now broken new ground in this field with a construction procurement policy targeting abuses common in that industry.
Wage theft is routine in Washington DC’s commercial construction industry, as documented in a major Catholic Labor Network report published in April. All too often, construction workers are misclassified as independent contractors – or simply paid off the books entirely. Workers in this position lose the protections of workers’ compensation in the event of injury and are usually denied overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week. Some are paid even less than the DC minimum wage.
In the absence of serious supervision by construction owners, these abuses are endemic on construction sites in the DC area – including on Georgetown University construction sites, leading recently to picketing by the area’s Carpenters’ Union.
Georgetown has responded with a remarkable plan to incorporate labor standards into its construction procurement contracts. The university announced that:
Georgetown University is committed to protecting the rights of workers on University construction projects. On October 6, 2021, the University announced it will incorporate new labor standards into new University construction contracts moving forward. These provisions include a requirement for construction managers and their subcontractors to submit certified payroll to Georgetown and pay prevailing wage, as well as reserving Georgetown’s right to conduct an investigation of work performed and compliance with applicable employment or labor standards and laws on University construction sites, either on its own or through an independent monitor. Georgetown is also committed to verifying that work performed on current construction sites is in compliance with applicable employment and labor laws.
This program puts Georgetown on the leading edge of private construction owners in its social justice commitments. Prevailing wage requirements are standard on public construction projects, but private owners are less likely to insist that workers employed there receive a just wage. And the university’s demand for certified payrolls, while again common in public construction, is almost unheard of in the private sector – as is the notion of inviting an independent monitor to assess compliance.
The Catholic Labor Network congratulates Georgetown on enhancing its already respected Just Employment Policy with this new initiative in construction procurement. The administration indeed heard the cry of the poor, and took action. By doing so, Georgetown continues to serve as a model of implementing Catholic Social Teaching for university and business leaders across the private sector.