Widgets Magazine

Public Safety Officers at odds with University over unionization

Stanford’s Public Safety Officers (PSOs) say the University has blocked their efforts to unionize, which stalled this January after a federal ruling in favor of Stanford.

The University’s 17 PSOs – unarmed members of the Stanford University Department of Public Safety – seek unionization to better represent their voices to the administration. SEIU Local 2007, a union representing service and technical workers at Stanford and Santa Clara University, is willing to incorporate the PSOs into its ranks, but Stanford opposed its petition to do so last year.

Horse cop, at Outside Lands 2016. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily).

Legal points

A key point of dispute is the recent classification of PSOs as guards, which would prohibit SEIU Local 2007 from representing PSOs alongside non-guard employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Stanford argues that the PSOs perform distinct duties that may require them to enforce rules against unionized employees, but PSOs and union representatives claim that the University is using the classification to serve its own interests.

According to SEIU Local 2007, the PSOs form a “community of interest” with the organization’s members – a common cause that enables a group of employees to gain representation by a labor union. Jenna Mains, finance manage of SEIU Local 2007, noted that the union’s members and PSOs “interact on a daily basis” and encounter similar campus issues. She also pointed out that 13 of the 17 PSOs are paid from the Parking and Transportation (P&TS) budget.

“This implies that since they’re under the ambit of the P&TS, they have a clear community of interest with the SEIU Local 2007, which is already involved with other Stanford employees,” Mains said.

Other employees of the Department of Public Safety, Deputy Sheriffs and Community Service Officers, are represented by the Stanford Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (DSA). However, the DSA has been reluctant to include the PSOs in their union, partly because they do not view their members and PSOs as having a community of interest. DSA members primarily work as guards, but PSOs were not considered guards until recently, Mains said. The DSA did not respond to a request for comments on this contention.

SEIU Local 2007 filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last September arguing the PSOs have a right to unionize as part of SEIU Local 2007. The University filed against the union using the law firm Jones Day, which Mains says is known for its specialized “union-busting” attorneys.

Stanford argued that PSOs lack a “community of interest” with the other employees represented by the SEIU, and cited the classification of PSOs as guards as a further reason to oppose the union’s petition in a hearing that took place from Sept. 23 to Sept. 26.

In the hearing, the NLRB determined that the PSOs are guards as defined by the NLRA and dismissed the SEIU Local 2007 petition. The union’s appeal of the decision by the regional NLRB was subsequently dismissed by the National Board this January.

Allegations of self-interest

In response to allegations from SEIU Local 2007 and PSOs, Stanford spokesperson EJ Miranda denied that the University was simply unwilling to allow PSOs to unionize.

“The issue is not with the PSOs’ interest in unionizing,” Miranda said in an email to The Daily. “The NLRA restriction … is to prevent conflicts of interest if guards are required to enforce the employer’s rules upon another employee represented by the same union. If the NLRB would have approved SEIU’s petition, the PSOs would be enforcing rules against fellow SEIU Local 2007 members.”

However, the SEIU Local 2007 still disputes the University’s classification, citing differences in a University website’s original definition of the PSO role and the official statement it gave during the hearing.

“As of now, there is a clear discrepancy in the function of the PSOs in the definitions on the University’s website before and after the hearing,” said Mains. “Moreover, the PSOs were made to perform functions like providing sweep detail of a building – for which they had no prior training – in order for the administration to justify this classification.”

In response, Miranda said changes to online descriptions of PSOs were part of a Department of Public Safety website upgrade “entirely unrelated” to the September hearing. He also said the web description of PSOs’ duties is not intended to be comprehensive.

PSO speaks out

According to a PSO who chose to remain anonymous, the officers need a union because their functions are constantly expanding even as their salaries remain inadequate, especially in comparison to the salaries of similar safety officers in the Bay Area. Many PSOs are single parents and in debt, the PSO explained, and unionization would give them a greater say in salaries, shifts and extra compensation that they receive for working additional shifts.

The employee cited recent changes to shift and vacation policies as a point of contention between PSOs and the University. For instance, the University removed a previous policy that granted senior officers first choice for shift and vacation “bids.”

“The administration arbitrarily removed this system, and now decides the shifts and premiums completely of its own accord,” the PSO said. “Our unit believes that the administration doesn’t appreciate what we do. There is a clear lack of recognition in terms of financial recompense and monetary rewards for our services.”

He added that PSOs have taken on some of the duties of Community Service Officers (CSOs) without receiving the extra pay CSOs are entitled to for the same job.

For now, the PSOs remain in limbo, unable to unionize with either SEIU Local 2007 or the DSA.

“At this point, we don’t care under whom they unionize, as long as they have the right to do so,” Mains said. “But the University’s doing everything in their power to stop these 17 people from unionizing.”

 

Contact Surbhi Sachdeva at surbhi3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.