Stanford living wage policy still a source of controversy

April 26, 2013, 12:36 a.m.

Ten years after the creation of Stanford’s living wage policy, the program has seen significant alterations while continuing to serve as a source of controversy.

The policy, which is reviewed annually by University Human Resources, was established to ensure that Stanford employees providing services such as maintenance, housing, food service and groundskeeping earn enough money to cover their basic needs.

As of October 2012, the policy stipulates that workers must be paid a minimum hourly wage of $12.40 if their employer provides health insurance. If health insurance is not provided, the workers must be paid a minimum hourly rate of $14.10.

The policy also requires employers to provide 10 compensated days off annually for full-time employees who have worked with the contractor for at least one year.

Monitoring contractors

According to Vice President for Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer Randy Livingston ’75 M.B.A. ’79, Stanford regularly audits all major contractors to ensure that they comply with the living wage policy.

“When we find contractors that have not been in compliance, we require them to correct their performance, including [providing] additional back pay to those contractor employees who were underpaid,” Livingston wrote in a statement to The Daily.

However, some critics of Stanford’s policy argued that the University should monitor contractors more closely, to ensure that the living wage policy is being followed.

Professor Emeritus of Law William Gould suggested that the University and students create “some sort of monitoring mechanism” for contractors under the living wage policy, boosting the likelihood of contractors complying with the policy by having someone “looking over their shoulder and pressing them.”

Laurel Fish ’14 and Najja Kossally ’13, members of the Stanford Labor Action Coalition (SLAC), a student group that was instrumental in implementing the living wage policy, agreed that students should be more involved in implementing and regulating the living wage policy.

“Currently the living wage is updated behind closed doors by administrators only, and we would like the process to involve students as well,” Kossally said.

Fish said that the first step toward more student involvement in the living wage policy is educating students about the issue.

“Right now there’s a lack of awareness about what a living wage is and why it’s important,” Fish said, adding that while some students know about Stanford’s living wage policy, many are unaware of its exceptions.

Fish cited the lack of coverage afforded some workers—including some independent contractors, employees at the Stanford Hospital and employees of tenant businesses that lease space on Stanford’s property, such as stores at the Stanford Shopping Center and non-Stanford operated eateries on campus—as one such exception.

Fish and Kossally argued that those workers are the most vulnerable to mistreatment by managers, largely due to their isolation from students who might otherwise monitor the workers’ treatment.

Supporting different burdens

Gould identified further issues with the living wage policy, including the University’s lack of an accurate measure of average family size. Under Stanford’s current policy, the living wage does not vary based on a worker’s family situation and thus may be insufficient in some cases.

In his statement, Livingston acknowledged that “the cost of living for a family is quite different from a single individual” but emphasized that he has “never heard of any employer who varies compensation based on an employee’s family situation.”

A full-time employee of a campus eatery not covered by the living wage policy said that she is currently paid $12.50 per hour, a rate higher than the minimum wage set by both Stanford and Santa Clara County but one at which she still struggles to make ends meet.

“As an employee, it would be nice to get higher wages. Just for someone to work at Stanford there’s parking to consider, there’s gas to consider, there’s rent to consider,” she said. “However, California isn’t in the best of financial states right now. It just sucks—it sucks on both ends.”

Another campus eatery employee, who is covered by the living wage policy, is paid $17.57 per hour. She said that she believes the current living wage of $12.40 is not enough to support someone living in the Bay Area.

“Let’s be real. They charge an arm and a leg in this area—Silicon Valley is costly,” she said. “I don’t have children, and I was fortunate enough to get a place where my rent was based on my income…but if it wasn’t for that I don’t know how I would make it.”

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