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Campus worker highlight: Week four

The Campus Workers’ Rights Coalition and members of CSRE35SI: An Introduction to Labor Organizing have put together a series of profiles drawn from both archival and current interviews with workers on-campus to highlight both the struggles that workers at Stanford face and the resilience that they bring to the work they do. Campus workers often have to deal with chronic understaffing and difficult menial labor. Alongside this, Stanford does not pay its workers a living wage despite the rising costs of food, health and housing in the Bay, and workers must often cover many of their own health costs because of a lack of insurance benefits while managing hours-long commutes due to a dearth of affordable housing.

Both the Campus Workers’ Rights Coalition and the members of CSRE35SI believe that students can play a powerful role in supporting the rights of workers on-campus. This is an especially pivotal time to advocate for those rights, since unionized workers’ current contract will be expiring this upcoming summer. This means that the on-campus labor union, SEIU Local 2007, and Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) will enter contract negotiations and hopefully finalize a new contract that addresses workers’ needs.

You can help support workers two big ways: 1) sign this petition calling on Stanford to provide its workers equitable benefits and a living wage; and 2) attend the May Day rally happening on May 1 from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in White Plaza to stand in solidarity with campus workers.

This the third profile in the series.

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Anonymous works in one of the undergraduate dorm complexes five days a week, commuting from his residence in San Jose.

Anonymous grew up on the East Coast. He moved to California when he was in his teens, attending high school in San Mateo. Before coming to Stanford, he spent 23 years working with the airlines in the Bay Area. In 2009, he started at Stanford as a temporary worker, and in 2012, he was hired full-time to work in the kitchens doing cooking and dishwashing. Over his seven years at Stanford, Anonymous has transitioned to working with R&DE as a custodial worker in the dorm residences. He wakes up every weekday morning around 4:30 a.m., leaves his house by 5:30 a.m. to catch a 5:45 a.m. Caltrain, and gets to Stanford at 6:12 a.m. before starting his workday. His daily responsibilities include taking care of the bathrooms and kitchenettes, cleaning the balconies and floors, dusting the building and cleaning daily trash around the buildings. R&DE addressed the issue within days of the publication. However, overworking is not limited to Wilbur Hall, as many of the staff around Stanford are experiencing similar workload issues.

“The kids are great.”

One of Anonymous’ favorite parts about working at Stanford is interacting with students on a daily basis. “If I can make a student that’s having a rough day, put a smile on their face, just to make them forget about some of the problems of dealing with all their workloads and stuff… It makes me feel good because I took some of the stress off, just to make them feel comfortable, even if it’s just for that moment.”

Anonymous likes his coworkers and having fun with them too, and he emphasizes that it’s really the students that he cares about the most.

“For me, that’s one of my biggest highlights.”

For Anonymous, one of the biggest difficulties of working at Stanford is coming in on Mondays. Over the weekend when the custodial staff aren’t around, the garbage often overflows. He says some students help, but most often, students continue to throw trash in the overflowing bins, until it’s spilling outside of the bags in the common space trash receptacles and even all over the floor. Anonymous says it’s rough coming in to see the bathroom, with toilet paper rolls and used paper towels scattered everywhere. Additionally, when people spill food or other things that stain the bathroom tile floor, Anonymous has to get down on his hands and knees to scrub it until it’s clean.

Otherwise, he says it’s not really bad. “The only time it gets bad is when you have three people out, so now you’re covering your area, another area and another area. By the end of the day, you’re exhausted, physically … Mentally, it takes a toll, but I’ve learned to let it go. Just do the work and keep it going.” This is similar to the situation that happened in Wilbur Hall this past Fall quarter, when two workers were placed on administrative leave, leaving the Wilbur Hall custodial staff understaffed for two full months. R&DE had been slow to respond to this issue, until a petition was circulated, receiving over 1,100 signatures and coverage in the Stanford Daily. RD&E addressed the issue within days of the publication. However, overworking is not limited to Wilbur Hall, as many of the staff around Stanford are experiencing similar workload issues.

In the upcoming contract negotiations between SEIU 2007, the service workers’ union on campus, and Stanford, Anonymous has three major points of concern: money, travel compensation and affordable housing. Anonymous thinks higher pay would make sense; Stanford is constantly adding new tasks and responsibilities for them to do. Anonymous would like to see a $2 to $3 raise from Stanford, with a 3 percent increase every two years. “You have the money [Stanford], you can’t say you don’t. Because every time we turn around, you’re building something.” With regards to travel compensation, he appreciates that Stanford gives him the Clipper Card as a transportation benefit, and he says it is a good incentive to stay out of his car until the weekend. Anonymous likes the Clipper Card because he can use it to ride the bus, the Caltrain and the VTA Light Rail. “As far as it goes for me and my commute, I love it.” However, Anonymous understands that not everyone at Stanford has a commute as convenient as his. He says there are people that live in Stockton, that commute every day to Stanford. From Sacramento, commuting every day to Stanford. “Half the people who work here, they can’t even afford to live here.” He cites the cost of renting a 3-bedroom house in San Jose at about $4,000 a month. A 1-bedroom apartment, almost $2,000 a month. For a studio, it’s around $1,500 a month. “And it’s just a box. With a bathroom and a kitchenette.” After rent, the utility bill, gas, and for parents, childcare, money is thin. “Now you’re crunching down to the fine pennies of survival.” Anonymous says people are being forced to move outward to Tracey, Stockton, and even Sacramento for affordability reasons. He wishes Stanford would do more to help people who live so far away from campus, through subsidizing or fully covering their transit passes, like Amtrak and ACE passes, and offering affordable housing to employees. “Those old apartments over there in Escondido Village? Rent them to us. We’ll be happy to take them.” Because the cost of living in the Bay Area is outpacing the rate of growth of Stanford’s compensation, Anonymous says Stanford is losing valuable employees.

As far as benefits go, Anonymous thinks they’re sustainable. However, he remarks that when Stanford increases his pay, they typically get the money back by raising the cost of benefits. “It’s blatant. It’s like really? You’re giving me a dollar, but then you’re gonna take that dollar back by adding it to my benefits.” He says the airlines did the exact same thing. “It’s not fair to the little person, because the only person that’s benefiting is the company.” Additionally, Anonymous thinks that the union should get Stanford to eliminate the service limit for temporary workers. He says that temps can work for a maximum of 800 hours, and then Stanford lays them off because Stanford doesn’t want to give temporary workers benefits.

Overall, Anonymous wants more people to stand up and ask for what they want. But he understands that a lot of people don’t want to step up because they’re afraid of losing their jobs. As a member of SEIU Local 2007, he hopes his fellow members will talk to their union reps to ask for what they want. He says to the union representatives, “This is your time, to take it to the table and get a fair deal.”

Contact Campus Workers’ Rights Coalition at stanfordworkersrights ’at’ gmail.com.

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