In an auditorium in the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge at Stanford Hospital, 13 custodians from the Stanford School of Medicine and Stanford Hospital and Clinics sit in a semicircle to talk. Some of them are new employees, hired just weeks ago. Others have been working at Stanford for 21, 27 or even 37 years. Whether they’re veterans or rookies, however, they all agree: There’s never been a worse time to be a custodian at the hospital.
Their complaints are varied. Managerial abuses, increased workload and a hostile work environment top a long list of grievances. But regardless of the specific issue, they all focus on a particular set of managers: those who don’t work for Stanford.
After Stanford hired the outside contractor Sodexo to manage their custodians in at least four buildings in the School of Medicine in 2007, those custodians say the jobs they had enjoyed for decades took a drastic turn for the worse.
Workloads increased in 2008 due to a rough economy, and they increased again when the custodians’ contract was renegotiated in 2011. When several custodians brought up that a doubled workload may merit a pay increase, they were shut down.
“They told us, ‘You guys are making too much money here,’” said one custodian with more than 20 years of experience at Stanford, who makes $23,000 a year. “They said, ‘We need to give you more work to be even with other companies. We’re going to give you more work.’”
In addition to workload increases, several custodians detailed specific instances when they felt their Sodexo managers mistreated them.
In one instance, a custodian requested two days of grievance time after his mother passed away. After two days passed, he asked for another two days to take care of burial preparations, having encountered struggles in locating a priest to conduct the burial ceremony.
His second request was denied, leading the custodian to go over the head of his Sodexo manager and give a death certificate to Stanford Hospital’s human resources department. This angered the Sodexo manager, who—according to the custodian—told him he was going to “investigate” him and his mother.
“There are no feelings,” he said. “They don’t care.”
A different custodian told a story about his mother, who was going into surgery at Stanford Hospital. He requested the day off five days before the surgery, but it wasn’t until the day before the surgery that a Sodexo manager declined the request.
“He said, ‘The doctor is going to take care of your mom, not you,’” the custodian remembered.
Early next morning, he went to human resources, where he was told the only way to get the day off was to get a note from the operating surgeon. Even after this, his Sodexo manager asked him to bring in all the medical records for his mother, from when she first entered the hospital.
Other custodians spoke about harassment at their jobs, especially while they eat lunch and are on their breaks. This practice only started after Sodexo took over managing operations.
“[Before Sodexo], if you do your area and you are responsible, nobody say nothing to you,” said one custodian. “Nobody bothers you. Nobody was looking to give you more work.”
One custodian said he delivered a signed letter to the president of Stanford Hospital & Clinics, listing many of these same grievances with Sodexo. The next day, Sodexo managers called the custodians into a meeting, five at a time.
“They said, ‘If you are happy working with Stanford, sign here,’” said a custodian who was in one of the meetings. “We didn’t know what we were signing.”
According to the custodians, no one from Stanford was in that meeting. Indeed, the custodians repeated throughout interviews that they enjoyed working for Stanford—it was the outside contractor Stanford had hired that bothered them.
“We are happy working for Stanford, but not the Sodexo people,” said the same custodian.
In addition to full-time custodians, several part-time custodians, who often work the same amount with half the benefits, also clean the Stanford Hospital.
“We are scheduled to work 40 hours a week, even though we are part time,” said one part-time worker. “We are OK with the job, but we are not OK because we don’t have the same benefits. We get half of the PTO [paid time off], half of the vacation…Healthcare is the same, but we don’t get weekends off. Full-time people get every other weekend [off].”
Many of the claims quoted in this article can be verified through hospital records, copies of Stanford Hospital’s human resources policy and interviews with Stanford Hospital administrators and Sodexo managers. A March 5 email to Stanford Hospital spokesman James Larkin requested interviews with hospital administrators, detailing many of the issues. Larkin replied on March 11, however, that he was “not sure that we will be able to accommodate your interview requests.”