Stanford: Contracted workers deserve the same benefits as your ‘regular’ employees

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On March 7, Students for Workers’ Rights sent a petition to the Stanford administration with a list of eight demands, calling on Stanford to protect, inform and fairly compensate service workers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; the petition has since garnered over 1,100 signatures from various members of the Stanford community. On March 16, Stanford released its policy of pay continuation for workers whose hours would be affected by COVID-19. In this policy, the University committed to continue paying its regular workers their full wages regardless of reductions in hours due to COVID-19 related changes in operations, thus substantially meeting our first demand to allow workers to opt out of work and receive paid sick leave without it deducting from their accumulated sick days as outlined in Section 8.3 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

However, the University’s pay continuation policy contains a serious omission: It does not apply to the several hundred contracted workers who are not technically Stanford employees, yet who perform various essential functions on campus. Contracted workers work on Stanford’s facilities but are not directly hired by Stanford; instead, they are employed through subsidiary companies such as UG-2, a national custodial service, and Student Organized Services, a group of chefs who serve food on the Row. These contracted workers include over 200 custodians who clean academic buildings and over 40 chefs who staff self-ops. In the wake of Stanford’s decision to move spring quarter fully online, the employment and pay of these contracted workers remains uncertain, since they don’t qualify as “regular” employees according to Stanford’s definition and thus aren’t eligible for the University’s pay continuation policy.

UG-2 custodians are as essential to the Stanford community as other service workers, yet they don’t have the same guarantee of pay continuation during the COVID-19 outbreak

UG-2 custodial staff are an integral part of the Stanford community. As students living on campus, we have relationships with UG-2 workers — whether through chats in academic buildings or visits to their on-campus headquarters — and have spent enough time with them to know that their work is more than just a job to them; they put love and care into maintaining our campus, serving food and keeping our spaces clean. These workers are like family to many of us who live in the dorms and eat in the dining halls. Despite UG-2 workers’ demonstrated commitment to Stanford, they are mistreated time and time again, with the COVID-19 pandemic exposing another instance of the University’s apathy towards UG-2 workers’ wellbeing. UG-2 janitors work long and trying hours, often cleaning until 2:30 a.m. They are made to be invisible to the student body, paid less than direct hires and belong to a union that does not adequately fight for their rights. When Students for Workers’ Rights members spoke with representatives from UG-2’s union, the representatives were unaware of concerns UG-2 workers had been expressing for several years around unsafe working conditions.

Amid the rapid spread of COVID-19 on campus and four days after Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order, UG-2 employees have been given only two choices: continue to work in an environment where they are at high risk of exposure to the virus, or stay home using their limited sick/vacation days. UG-2 workers are some of the most vulnerable in our community to COVID-19; many are over the age of 60 and/or have preexisting conditions, and few have access to high-quality healthcare. Subcontracted workers have taken care of us students every day that we’ve been at Stanford. Now, in the face of a deadly pandemic, Stanford is failing to take care of them. Putting workers in this position, where they are in fear of going to work and in fear of staying home without wages, is inexcusable. We demand that UG-2 workers be offered pay continuation during a pandemic that threatens their health.

UG-2 custodians are being systematically kept in the dark about the scope of the COVID-19 crisis

In addition to not extending the same pay continuation policy to subcontracted workers, Stanford has kept them completely in the dark about the worsening situation with the spread of the virus on campus. As recently as last Wednesday, workers were reaching out to us asking why the University was closing and why students were leaving campus. They had been given no information about the virus and its dangers, nor the fact that there had already been confirmed cases on campus at the time. In fact, in a meeting on March 12, a UG-2 worker communicated to us that the company had told them exactly the opposite — that no one at Stanford was sick, but that they’d been given orders to decontaminate campus spaces more rigorously than usual. 

Below are some text messages from a UG-2 worker, quoted with their permission:

“Estamos trabajando. No se porque?. El gobierno dijo que debíamos estar en casa. Residentes de EPA. Están muy temerosos, estoy coordinando con otras organizaciones para que el city Hall adopte una medida de ayuda, para no ser desalojados por no pagar la renta en abril y mayo” 

“We are working. I don’t know why. The government said that we should stay home. Residents of EPA are very scared, I’m coordinating with other organizations to get City Hall to adopt an assistance measure, so that no one is displaced for not paying rent in April and May.”

“Por que Stanford está permitiendo que los janitors sigan trabajando, cuando deberíamos estar en casa. Los janitors quisiéramos estar en casa. Pero seguimos trabajando porque queremos seguir ganando el salario, para poder pagar la renta. Ug2, dice que podemos estar en casa si queremos pero, no hay garantía de pagos. Solo si usáramos nuestras vacaciones o días de enfermedad.”

“Stanford is letting janitors keep working, when we should be at home. The janitors want to be at home. But we keep working because we want to keep earning a salary to pay rent. UG-2 says we can stay home if we want, but there’s no guaranteed pay. Unless we use our vacation days or sick days.”

Students for Workers’ Rights and staff members are both calling on Stanford to expand its benefits to contracted workers

Stanford has long employed contracted labor as a strategy to minimize costs and to erode the power of organized labor; the crisis of COVID-19 has only exacerbated the economic violence that is part and parcel of this practice. Given the precarious situation of UG-2 workers, Students for Workers’ Rights is reiterating its demand that Stanford extend whatever benefits it provides its regular workers to its contracted workers. We’ve updated our petition to reflect this demand in light of Stanford’s new pay continuation policy, and are continuing to call on students to email the administration, asking them to treat contracted workers with the same dignity and respect as other Stanford service workers.  We also hope to publish an article soon about the situation faced by Row staff through Student Organized Services, who are facing similar uncertainty due to their contracted status.

In addition, Stanford staff have also initiated a petition calling on Stanford to support all its employees, including contracted staff, during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Molly Aufdermauer, the Stanford staff member of 15 years who initiated the call, her fellow benefits-eligible staff members were disappointed when they learned about the University’s limited pay continuation policy, as it showed a lack of equity towards non-benefits-eligible and contingent staff. The call to action is a show of solidarity among staff members and a call for Stanford to be a leader in buffering the economic impact of this pandemic, especially among its most financially vulnerable staff.

While Stanford’s pay continuation policy is a step in the right direction, students and staff are both clear in their response: In this crisis, benefits should accrue not to some workers, but to all.

 — Shelby Parks ’19, Chloe Stoddard ’21 and Ethan Chua ’20 of Students for Workers’ Rights

Any questions or comments can go to Ethan Chua at ezlc327 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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