Five janitorial staff members who work in Stanford’s academic center shared their needs and goals for their new labor contract with at least 40 students in a forum at the Markaz on April 14. The staff raised three key issues: wages, cost of living and medical benefits.
The worker’s forum was the latest joint effort by the SEIU United Service Workers West (USWW) union and Stanford’s Student And Labor Alliance (SALA) to win more favorable terms for Bay Area custodial staff in ongoing contract renegotiations. The negotiation process will culminate in a contract on April 30, which the union will vote on collectively.
While Stanford has expressed interest in working with contractor C&W to grant campus custodial staff extra benefits, workers remain concerned about health insurance and wages amid soaring rental costs in the area. Other workers in the SEIU USWW union who work for corporate organizations may also face a more hostile renegotiation process.
SALA leader Emma Hartung ’17 directed questions to the workers, who spoke in Spanish, while fellow leader Cenobio Hernandez ’18 translated for the crowd. The workers’ forum concluded with an open question-and-answer session.
“Students may not have gotten to see and hear from the night workers who clean our academic buildings,” Hartung said, explaining the purpose of the event. “We wanted students to be able to hear both about their work and about the rights they’re fighting for.”
“They were stressing, ‘it’s not just about us, [the contract is] impacting other workers in the Bay Area … we don’t just want this for us, we want it for all contracted custodians in the Bay Area,’” Amanda Hayes ’19 recalled, having attended the event as a non-member.
The workers explained that contractors such as Able and ABM have not been cooperative, offering a 10-cent-per-year increase in wages as well as reduced health care coverage.
“Ten cents a year might not keep up with inflation and it certainly doesn’t with rental … Since it’s clear [the companies] aren’t offering anything substantial, it’s become even more important to speak out and support them,” Hartung said.
The five workers in attendance came in their work uniforms and stayed for 25 minutes before leaving for their shifts.
In keeping with their focus on the welfare of workers in the Bay Area at large, both the workers present and SALA urged students to support off-campus as well as on-campus rallies.
“The key thing they asked for is for students to turn out — both holding a rally here and trying to attend off-campus rallies, because public support is one thing negotiations really turn on,” Hartung said.
Other companies who subcontract workers from the union include Ebay, Intel and Cisco. SALA has organized carpools for students to attend rallies at Cisco, one of several Silicon Valley companies who subcontract janitorial staff from the companies involved in the negotiations. This Friday, SALA is also holding a student rally at White Plaza, since workers themselves are not allowed to demonstrate on campus.
SALA members also reflected on the University’s place in the workers’ rights movement, compared to corporate employees.
“If [the workers] and the students feel as though [the contract terms] are not enough, we have direct lines of communication with [the administration],” Hartung said.
The direct contact between workers and students on Thursday also proved to be the most impactful part of the event for the students present.
“It was the first time I heard from the workers directly, and I think that it was a really powerful event and really inspiring to see how many students were interested in learning about the workers’ stories,” SALA member Bunnard Phan ’18 said.
Contact Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.