By Ryane Liao
Flooded in sunlight on Wednesday afternoon, White Plaza was the scene of a rally supporting campus service workers. What started as three Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) employees conversing in calm, measured Spanish turned into group of almost 40 allied students, staff and SEIU members chanting in collective defense of workers’ rights.
“We [want to] see workers taken care of,” said one maintenance employee named John. “That means housing, livable wages, retirement benefits … Some of our staff members commute three and a half hours [one-way] to be here, living out of cars or trailers to make ends meet.”
The event was organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in cooperation with student groups such as Students for the Liberation of All People (SLAP) and the Stanford Solidarity Network (SSN).
One attendee, a student themself, explained that students are often blind to Stanford’s issues.
“How many people wonder whether the smiling young woman who swipes their meal card is homeless, anyway?” said the student. “Not many at all.”
Indeed, for many of the service workers that maintain the plumbing, heating, dining and cleanliness of on-campus residences, going home to unpaid bills and the uncertainty of making ends meet is an everyday reality. As the campus workers’ rights movement has pointed out before, despite the famed wealth of the University, some of the staff essential to its daily functions do not receive adequate compensation to survive the soaring home prices and expensive costs of living in the Palo Alto area.
“See this?” said Francisco Preciado Jr., SEIU’s executive director, who was present at the rally today, as he gestured towards a New York Times article on his phone. The headline read: “Stanford’s Endowment Grew 11.3 Percent Last Year, Beating Harvard but Not Yale.”
“And even so, the University declares a state of ‘poverty’ to its workers, people who live with day-to-day concerns about how they’re going to make the next meal for their families,” he added.
The rally comes on the heels of a visit from presidential candidate Julián Castro ’96, who attended a SEIU Local 2007 meeting on March 23 to show his support for the service workers in their upcoming contract negotiations with the University. Regarding this collective bargaining agreement, which will be deliberated in May, University spokesperson E.J. Miranda said that the Board of Trustees “[looks] forward to collaborating with SEIU Local 2007 in positive and good faith negotiations to reach an agreement on a new contract.”
SEIU Local 2007 has expressed its hope that the new round of negotiations will address the rental affordability crisis and displacement of workers.
The rally also follows a significant amount of campus mobilization around campus workers, including a petition circulated in support of “fair treatment of workers and respect for their rights” and a 20th Undergraduate Senate resolution in support of workers that is currently under discussion.
To the participants of this rally, it seems almost inconceivable that a university fewer than 10 miles from Silicon Valley, one that is one of the most renowned and wealthiest universities — at least by endowment standards — “cannot find the funds to pay their employees a living wage,” according to Preciado.
The crowd began to disperse as the rally came to a close, the protesters left attendees with a message in the form of a rhyme they chanted: “I don’t know what I’ve been told / Stanford pockets lined with gold / Lies and trick will not divide / Workers, students, side by side.”