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.
You can help support workers by attending the May Day rally happening on May 1 from 2:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. in White Plaza to stand in solidarity with campus workers.
This the fourth profile in the series.
I’m from Mexico, and currently live in San Jose with my husband and two children. I have three children but only two live with me, and they’re all adults — my oldest is 36 and my youngest is 30.
My story is nothing out of the ordinary. I started working in canneries, then worked in housekeeping. After a while I sought more time to tend for my children and looked for a night job, where I still remain. Right now, I work at Encina hall, and I’ve also worked on the first floor of the law school. My work there took a toll on my hands, since I had to scrub very big black tables clean over and over again. I’ve been doing janitorial work here since 1999, which means I’ve been here working for my children and then for my grandchildren. It might seem incredible, but compared to the salary that I had back then my salary still remains low. People say that the minimum wage is $15, but overall my salary has remained frozen since when I began. It seems unfair that a person who has worked here for three years gets paid the same amount of money as a person who has worked here for 30 years.
Our health insurance right now is very basic; our dental and vision needs are not covered at all. Our current insurance plan basically only covers emergency costs. We’ve been hearing conversations in management that they do not want to give us health insurance and that we’d have to pay for health costs on our own. My coworkers in the night shift and I have been scared to hear that. None of us want to lose our health insurance, and not having those benefits would hurt us a lot.
The reality is that the work we do here is very heavy work. It’s work that really strains our eyes. On my part, I’ve developed a pterygium in both of my eyes which is essentially a small web that develops over my eyes. I’ve had to have surgery on both of my eyes for that. I’ve also had carpal tunnel surgery on my hands. Many of us have surgery on our legs and feet because of complications that arise from walking and being on our feet all day long. The reality is that the work we do has repercussions throughout our entire body. All of us janitorial staff suffer from migraines because we never get enough time to sleep. Over time we start to damage our most basic body parts, including our eyes from strain and lack of sleep, and our hands and legs from heavy manual labor. For this reason we believe that it’s only fair for us to have good health coverage that can help us deal with these complications which arise because of the workplace.
We definitely want a better health insurance plan. We want to see better salaries and salaries that reflect the seniority of workers. We’d like to receive five sick days a year instead of three, and get pay for seven holidays a year instead of five. Overall, while I feel that we are happy with our work, we want better working conditions. We want a livable wage because the economy has left us behind. Rents have gone up in price, basic goods have gone up in price, and for many families the only way to survive is to work two or more jobs. There are women who are single mothers who have no other support system and who have to work more than one job. In that respect I feel very fortunate because I have a partner that can help me, but that is not the reality for many people.
I’ve been involved in this cause for many years as a delegate, and though I don’t always have time to devote to that, I remain very connected with my coworkers and we all agree that we’re overworked and underpaid. I’ve always been a person that likes to help their coworkers, so whenever I see some form of injustice toward any of my coworkers I feel comfortable bringing my coworkers together and mobilizing them to change what we don’t like. This is something that has gotten me fired at times, and it has gotten me in trouble with management. Obviously not everyone is going to agree with you for standing up for what is right. However, overall it is something that must be done.
Let me tell you, in the end I’m a realist. I feel that I have achieved the dreams I have proposed for myself and I do not craft fantasies beyond my reality. I see that things tend to get worse, and I am a person who takes life one day at a time. I always thank God for the opportunity to live through one day. At my age I don’t spend time thinking about an ideal future, but rather I accomplish my dreams one day at a time. For my children, I ask God that he gives them strength and resilience, as well as to my husband. However, ultimately they are adults and their life is their responsibility. At this point the only thing I can really do is give them advice and pray for them. My responsibility in tending for them is something that’s ended. The future is uncertain, and the past remains in the past and there is nothing to change about it. All of my life I have been a realist so I always savor the moment.
Contact Campus Workers’ Rights Coalition at stanfordworkersrights’at’gmail.com.