Widgets Magazine

SALA backs janitorial workers’ union for contract negotiations

With Stanford’s janitorial workers’ regional contract up for renegotiation this April, the Stanford Student and Labor Alliance (SALA) held an open meeting for new members last Sunday to rally support for the SEIU Local 1877 workers’ union. More than 40 people packed into the Asian American Activities Center to discuss upcoming actions for the janitorial staff in academic buildings.

According to Cenobio Hernandez ‘18, one of SALA’s three leaders, the workers’ union has taken the lead in the drive to seek a contract more favorable for workers, while SALA and other Stanford students are playing a supporting role. According to a questionnaire done by the workers’ union, some of the largest concerns of the workers include wages, job security and workplace harassment — particularly sexual harassment.

Since workers are contractually forbidden to strike on campus, a large part of student and faculty support will be shown through rallies and petitions.

“In the past, the administration has been able to use students as an excuse, saying that students want academic buildings to be open longer, so workers’ hours have to be changed,” Hernandez said. “Our voice has been used in a way that dismisses workers’ positions, so we need to show that we are with the workers.”

The workers’ union will be taking part in three upcoming rounds of negotiations. Regional negotiations between Bay Area employees and C&W services, the contractor that employs Stanford’s janitors, will take place in April, followed by specific contract negotiations for on-campus staff over the summer. Stanford will also negotiate a Bill of Understanding with the union, promising them certain benefits that C&W will ultimately be responsible for upholding.

Robert Carpenter, executive director of facilities and operations, elaborated that Stanford is not directly involved in contract renegotiations beyond funding additional benefits above existing contracts.

It’s not exactly an agreement,” Carpenter said. “We basically say to the contractor, ‘We want to pay the custodians an extra $1 per hour — how much would that cost?’ And then we pay the contractor that amount.”

Carpenter stressed that the contractors are ultimately responsible for the custodians and that Stanford has not seen problems with C&W upholding such arrangements.

“The custodians are not our employees,” he explained. “They’re employees of the contractors.”

Malachi Dray ‘18, another SALA leader, said that SALA has discussed workers’ rights with administrators such as Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ’82, who has supported ample benefits and better working conditions for the workers. Nonetheless, SALA remains concerned about contractor accountability and the administration’s distance from workers’ issues.

“The administration is not directly linked to workers’ issues, so students need to hold the University accountable,” said Emma Hartung ‘17, SALA’s third leader.

Contract negotiations notwithstanding, new members also pointed out other challenges that workers face that may not be addressed as easily.

“I talked to a worker who had a three-hour commute, so it’s a six-hour round trip for her just to get to work,” said Kinsey Morrison ‘18, who attended the meeting.  “Can you imagine — we complain about a six-minute round trip to the Main Quad.”

At the same time, many temporary workers who are not part of any union do not stand to benefit from the terms of union-led contracts, creating a host of other problems surrounding their health insurance, working hours and job security.

To address the myriad of concerns, new members suggested a mix of traditional demonstrations and publicity measures such as film to tell workers’ stories. They also brought up personal networks they could use for support and pledged their personal commitment to the movement. Just last year, a SALA petition rallied over 1800 supporters and successfully restored normal working hours for Science and Engineering Quad custodial staff.

Meanwhile, janitorial staff affected by the contract are getting ready for renegotiation season.

“Before, everyone was feeling pretty negatively, like the union was on the side of the company, but now that we see that the students support us, we feel more comfortable speaking out,” staff member Méndez Maluisa said in Spanish.


Contact Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.