Widgets Magazine


Op-Ed: Stanford’s Labor Rights Problem

I’m not an activist. I don’t occupy or protest, sit in or walk out. Though I’m a Roman Catholic, sixth-generation liberal California Democrat who was reared on homily after homily and parental spiel after parental spiel about fighting for the rights of laborers, I never paid much attention to the issue – or perhaps I chose to ignore it. Recently, though, it’s been difficult to look the other way and accept Stanford’s unfair treatment of its loyal employees. It’s time for all of us to admit: Stanford has a problem.

My freshman year I was part of “Habla,” a group that tutors Stanford janitors who need help learning English. Uriel, my tutee, worked two jobs and lived in East Palo Alto. Ultimately, though, Uriel stopped coming to our sessions. It wasn’t because he lost interest in learning English (he was making quite a bit of progress, in fact). Uriel, along with all of his co-workers, was laid off by the subcontractor to which Stanford had outsourced janitorial responsibilities.

Did Stanford know he would be unable to continue learning English? Probably not. Did Stanford ensure that he found another job? Doubtful. Stanford’s decision was purely strategic. At a certain point, Stanford would become responsible for overseeing the conditions under which the janitors worked, from fair insurance policies to issues of labor abuse. So the janitors were cycled out, replaced by new ones who will likely meet the same fate as Uriel, all the while saving Stanford a little money. These types of practices have been occurring campus-wide, from the recent decision to restructure the management of Suites dining to the widespread layoffs and outsourcing of janitors at the Medical School. It doesn’t take the head of AFL-CIO to tell you that’s wrong.

While I don’t pretend to know how difficult some administrative decisions are or what details go into allocating Stanford’s operating budget, when an endowment exceeds 17 billion dollars, is there really cause for putting people like Uriel out of work to save some cash? While I’m sure the administrators at ResEd don’t just sit around and brainstorm ways to lay off employees, is the university really doing everything it can to ensure that labor practices aren’t just legal but also fair? And while I’m sure we can all agree that having another Arrillaga gym will be nice, can we honestly say that we wouldn’t have preferred for some of that money to go towards keeping people in work?

My sense is that a lot of people will read this and assure me that the Stanford practices I’ve described haven’t really affected them. “I don’t live in Chi Theta Chi,” you might say, or “I don’t know the chefs at Suites.”

Neither do I. I really do understand how easy it would be to read this column, close this issue of The Daily, and do no more than simply shake your head at ResEd. Don’t get me wrong: I love our school. I don’t like to preach. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an activist type.

But when the university that I am proud to associate with and the administrators whom I trust begin to put profits over loyal employees and cost-saving over student interests, I’ll raise a voice and recall that sense of social justice that sometimes gets buried inside me. I hope you will, too.

Matthew Colford ‘14

  • Writing is taking action, Matthew!
    Thanks for doing it. Our task as students is to figure out how to respond to this particular labor issue and ensure some degree of justice can be met for those who are currently in labor limbo.

  • Ethos

    Matthew. Don’t apologize for speaking out against something. You do not, by any means, have to pander to and indeed perpetuate the negative stereotype of activists in order to make yourself more relatable. It’s exactly the same strategy employed by politicians when they put on a fake accent at some town hall meeting in Omaha. It’s actually offensive.

    You make a strong point (one that would be even harder-hitting with some research)…but then you hurt your case by being abashed about the fact that you are standing up. Don’t. Speak with conviction and people will be compelled.

  • Marwa Farag

    Thanks for writing this.

  • james

    Typical liberal: very generous with other people’s money.

  • James Honsa

    You’re kidding, right?. Students are upset because OUR money is being used without transparency or accountability. If anything, we are making a traditionally conservative argument, asking ResEd to limit their involvement in our affairs and respect our sovereignty as self-governing students.

  • james

    I am not kidding. You are the ultimate liberal. 1) It is not YOUR money. Once you pay tuition it becomes STANFORD’s money. 2) Even if you pay full tuition, you are getting more than what you paid for. 3)

    When an employer pays you a salary, would you still consider it the EMPLOYER’s money? Does an employer have the right to tell you how to spend the money he pays you.

    You are not a self-governing student. If you want to come to Stanford or any other university, you abide by their rules; not your rules. As a liberal you think the world revolves around you. It doesn’t.

  • oldstanford

    Stanford provides good benefits and used to provide them at all levels of employment. Now they dispose of those who “don’t deserve” a good life because of the type of work they do? While getting $1B from donors?

  • Li

    I’m pretty sure that’s not the actual definition of liberal. Kind of like the actual definition of conservative isn’t a white misogynist with concern only for the upper class. C’mon, people. Learn your political terms.

  • james

    I didn’t say that was the definition of liberal. It is one of the many unfortunate symptoms of liberal thinking.

  • give me a break

    This isn’t about politics, it’s about human rights, you douche. Stop flinging your dichotomizing labels and try to engage in some dialogue. If you want to roll over and have your tuition money used to disenfranchise honest workers, fine, but don’t expect everyone else to agree with you.

  • James Honsa

    Stanford’s relationship with students is not remotely analogous to an employer’s relationship with their workers. Hopefully you can learn more about liberal and conservative ideologies and punctuation usage in your studies at Stanford!