On August 31, 2019, Stanford University and Service Employees International Union Higher Education Workers (SEIU) Local 2007, came to a tentative agreement on their new five-year contract. Members of SEIU Local 2007, which represents approximately 1,270 Stanford employees including food service workers, custodians and groundskeepers, voted to ratify the agreement on September 6. The tentative agreement includes stipulations on wage increases for the next 5 years; an expansion of workers’ eligibility for the Medical Contribution Assistance Program (MCAP), Stanford’s healthcare plan; and the rectification of discrepancies in wages for some classes of workers, such as food service workers and custodians, where workers hired after September 1, 1997 were paid lower wages than their counterparts doing similar work. The ratification of the tentative agreement marks the end of a several months-long negotiation process that occurred through this summer, and a Stanford press release reaffirmed the university’s ostensible commitment to its employees, stating that “university employees play an important role in supporting Stanford’s mission.”
However, the tentative agreement is equally striking for what it does not include — a number of union proposals for better terms in a variety of areas including affordable housing, subcontracting and adjustments of service workers’ wages to better fit market rates that Stanford categorically rejected in the negotiations process.
Stanford rejected a union proposal to set aside more affordable housing for workers.
Rising costs of living in the Bay Area without commensurate increases in wages continues to plague Stanford service workers, with some commuting to campus from as far as Stockton or Sacramento. The issue isn’t helped by Stanford, which currently provides subsidized housing to only around 12 of the 1,270 workers represented by SEIU, and whose nearby “housing options” at Stanford West and Colonnade Apartments currently have a combined waitlist of over 1,000 applicants. During negotiations, the union proposed prioritizing 10 percent of all newly vacant and/or constructed Stanford housing for SEIU members, who currently receive low priority in the lottery system for below market-rate housing. Stanford rejected this proposal without providing an alternative.
Stanford rejected a union proposal to realign workers’ wages to market rate wages.
Another issue facing Stanford service workers is a discrepancy between the wages they earn at Stanford and wages earned by employees doing comparable work at other places, a discrepancy SEIU proposed to rectify in negotiations through a committee that would identify how pay for various classification series (e.g. Lab Assistants or Food Service Workers) compared to market rates. After conducting market research, SEIU proposed adjusting pay scales for 17 job series that would bring wages on par with the industry or other union members on campus. However, Stanford rejected this proposal without providing an alternative.
It’s worth distinguishing this rejection from the wage increases that Stanford committed to for food service workers and custodians in the tentative agreement. Those increases were introduced to rectify internal Stanford policies which made it so that some workers hired post-1997 were paid less than their counterparts hired pre-1997. Stanford’s rejection of market realignments speaks to its unwillingness to match the pay provided by its competitors. Not only that, but in the contract negotiations process Stanford also called for a limitation on the scope of realignments to “comparable institutions” instead of competitors, belying its ostensible commitment to provide workers fair wages.
Stanford refused to end subcontracting for work already performed by union members.
Stanford also employs a large number of workers through subcontracting, a practice that allows the university to acquire labor while withholding benefits from subcontracted workers that longer-term workers would be eligible for. Subcontracting also erodes the strength of unions by providing Stanford access to a flexible, non-unionized workforce that could weaken any collective action taken by members of SEIU. During contract negotiations, SEIU proposed ending subcontracting for all work “customarily and routinely” performed by union members, a proposal that Stanford rejected without providing an alternative.
Stanford also rejected various other union proposals regarding harassment, the Central Energy Facility and sick time.
These areas are not the only ones in which Stanford rejected union proposals without compromise — it also turned down a proposal to provide paid leave for employees who are the victims of sexual harassment; refused to eliminate a policy which excludes union members at Stanford’s Central Energy Facility (a site requiring 24-hour continuous operations) from shift premiums and compensation for missed meal breaks; and refused to pay out accumulated sick time to workers who leave Stanford for any reason upon their departure.
Stanford’s negotiation tactics involved giving next to no ground on questions of wages and vacation hours.
Finally, even the areas in which Stanford and SEIU came to a compromise speak to a lack of respect on Stanford’s part for its obligation to bargain in good faith. In multiple areas of contention, Stanford essentially stonewalled SEIU’s attempts at negotiation. For example, SEIU proposed increasing the vacation accrual cap for its members from 240 to 480 hours of vacation time — more a necessity than a privilege considering that almost 200 food service workers are laid off during various times in the year and often have to supplement their missed income with vacation benefits. Stanford initially responded that it would maintain a cap of 240 hours. As negotiations progressed, SEIU dropped its proposal from 480 hours to 440, then 400, then 320, but Stanford did not budge. Eventually, the vacation cap remained at 240 hours with the concession of an enhanced accrual rate for members with a 240 hour cap.
Another example of Stanford’s approach to negotiation involves the agreement on wages and contract terms. The previous contract had a five-year term with an annual wage increase of 3 percent. SEIU began negotiations by proposing a three-year, one-month term with a 7 percent wage increase each year, to which Stanford responded with a five-year, 3 percent per year offer — a continuation of the previous contract’s status quo. The eventual agreement reached involved a minuscule increase on Stanford’s part — the five-year contract term was retained, but with an annual wage increase breakdown of 3.75% for the first year, followed by 3.5% for the next three years, back to 3.75% for one year, instead of 3 percent each year. This is a far cry from the union’s proposal of 7 percent annual increases over three years and a month. In addition, Stanford bolstered its wage proposal with a $1,000 “signing bonus” to be paid out to workers if they agreed to the contract terms Stanford proposed.
While Stanford’s press release happily emphasized the collaborative nature of contract negotiations and the valued work of university employees, the facts tell a different story: a story of a university which categorically denied a wide range of reasonable proposals by the union in a variety of areas that matter deeply to workers such as affordable housing, wage realignments and subcontracting; and a story of a university which, while gesturing toward compromise, basically stonewalled substantial union proposals in areas such as vacation hours and annual wage increases. While the five-year tentative agreement has been ratified, the fight for a living wage, better benefits and basic dignity for Stanford’s service workers is far from over — and we’ve seen that Stanford, on its end, has failed to do its part.
Read summaries of the tentative agreement here and here. Read meeting-by-meeting updates on contract negotiations on the union’s website. Read another article by the Stanford Coalition for Workers’ Rights on the conditions faced by Stanford workers here.
Contact Ethan Chua at ezlc327 ‘at’ stanford.edu.