Stanford ‘has no right’ to save janitors’ jobs

May 23, 2011, 2:05 a.m.

On June 3, 29 Stanford janitors are set to lose their jobs because they are unable to meet the background checks required by the University’s new janitorial subcontractor, UGL (UNICCO) Janitorial Services.

The University “will not interfere with the agreement and has no right to do so,” said Jeff Wachtel, senior assistant to University President John Hennessy. “This is not a choice of the University, and we can take no action.”

According to Wachtel, UGL and Local 1877, a chapter of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that represents the workers, mutually agreed upon a resolution to the dispute. Under this agreement, the janitors are slated to lose their jobs. The union did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily, and UGL said it had no comment at this time.

The Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC), a student group that has been advocating on behalf of the janitors over the past several months, has requested that the University intervene to protect these workers jobs. In a petition created by SLAC and sent to Stanford and UGL last December, some 2,000 Stanford community members signed a statement that read, “Workers should retain their employment and the wages and benefits associated with their seniority rights through a subcontracting transition.”

Stanford is attempting to remove itself from these disputes, which stem from its switch last December to UGL from its previous services subcontractor, ABM. At the time, the University explained the change by saying that UGL would provide superior services.

Under an agreement with SEIU, UGL was contractually obligated to offer all ABM workers the opportunity to keep their jobs and initiated an employment process to rehire the workers. The employment process consisted of background checks on all 134 of the employees in order to verify each individual’s identity as well as to check for any criminal history.

According to a letter from UGL to Stanford, which Wachtel provided to The Daily, one of the purposes of the process was to ensure that all employees were lawfully eligible to be employed in the United States and that UGL complied with federal laws covering immigration and employment.

One of those laws is the Immigration and Nationality Act, which prohibits hiring anyone who is an “unauthorized alien.” Employers must verify using “a form designated or established by the Attorney General by regulation” that the individual is legally eligible to work in the country.

Eric Griffis ’12, a member of SLAC, noted that an I-9 form–which does not ask for a Social Security number–meets verification requirements. He said that UGL instead chose to use a flawed system that issues “no match” letters if a database detects a mismatch between Social Security numbers provided on W-2 forms with the Social Security Administration’s records. UGL asked for I-9 forms later on in the process.

In the letter to Stanford, UGL wrote that its background checks could not verify the identity of 30 of the employees. After negotiations between UGL and SEIU, the employees were given until June 3 to provide documentation establishing their eligibility to work in the U.S. According to the settlement, UGL will provide the workers whose jobs will be terminated with severance pay.

UGL also denied allegations that it is seeking to lay off more senior workers, who are entitled to higher pay and superior benefits than newer hires, in its letter to the administration. The gap in wages can be fairly significant–according to Griffis, senior employees earn $13.09 per hour with benefits, while new workers earn just $9.15 per hour and do not receive benefits.

UGL claimed that the 29 affected employees are neither the longest tenured nor the highest-paid janitors working at Stanford, pointing out that nine of the employees set for termination have worked at the University for less than five years. None of the affected janitors have had their jobs for more than 15 years, and UGL said it would continue to employ 23 janitors who have worked at Stanford for more than 15 years.

In a previous version of this story, The Daily incorrectly reported the switch to UGL happened last November and that the contractor used a system called “E-Verify.” In fact, the transition happened in December. The system of verification has yet to be confirmed by both UGL and SLAC.

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