“Respect and a Fair Workload.” That’s what we as Stanford dining hall workers are demanding from Stanford Residential and Dining Enterprises management. We are tired of verbal abuse, pressure to work ever faster and management relentlessly taking advantage of our commitment to feed our students. We are a group of dining workers organizing our coworkers to stand up for sustainable quality service built on adequate staffing and a respectful work environment.
Many of us have worked in Stanford Dining for decades, and this is more than a job for us; we care about our students and take pride in feeding them. We used to feel Stanford was a special place to work, where management was concerned with our well-being, listened to our concerns and provided the resources we needed to serve our students. But those days are gone. Dining halls have been chronically understaffed in recent years. Where once four people shared a task — like hauling heavy food bags out of the pantry or walk-in refrigerator — that burden now falls on two workers or even one. Our bodies are increasingly breaking down — backs, shoulders, wrists, knees failing under the strain. As more workers go out on disability and workers’ compensation, we face a vicious cycle of understaffing, overwork, stress and injury. Some managers yell and scream at us to keep up the pace, at times leaving workers in tears. Other managers rely on our commitment to the students to drive us to finish the work at all costs. And we do, but we will not be able to provide quality service forever when our numbers, health and morale are already in steady decline. And despite our best efforts, when understaffing is particularly acute, we see the effect on quality: closed food stations, fewer options and more canned ingredients.
We have repeatedly raised these issues to management, individually and in groups, for years, with little response. Management tells us that they are doing their best to fill vacant positions. Yet, nearly 30 full-time positions in Dining remain vacant. “The job market is tight.” “Part-timers don’t want full time positions.” “Everyone is going to Google and Facebook.” If tech companies are offering food service workers more than Stanford Dining, which currently starts as low $16.90 per hour, is Stanford too strapped to raise wages and secure adequate staffing, even as the endowment grows and students pay over $6,000 a year for meal plans?
After management asserted that our part-time coworkers don’t want full-time positions, we talked to about 30 “casual” workers over the course of three days. Lo and behold, dozens were interested in full-time jobs. But the hundreds of casual workers in Dining, who work part-time without benefits, guaranteed hours or union protections, are not consistently encouraged or supported to apply for full-time jobs. Some told us that even after years of part-time work, they were discouraged from applying for full-time positions because they needed to “prove themselves” further. We know workers who want full-time work but have been kept as casuals for 10 years or more.
When we proposed in a monthly management-union meeting that these casual workers be systematically and fairly offered vacant full-time positions, in order of their tenure with Stanford, we were repeatedly told, “You [our union] don’t represent the casuals” and that management would not talk with us about our part-time coworkers. The message is loud and clear: We are to follow orders and keep our mouth shut, rather than support our fellow workers or make proposals to improve working conditions and service. This just confirmed what many of us feel every day in the workplace: Upper management only sees us as machines, not people.
But we are human beings, with responsibilities beyond our work. Already, our families live on the edge, struggling to pay skyrocketing rents in the Bay Area or commuting hours every day from somewhere we can afford to live. Now, because of the pressure we work under, we often go home to our families too stressed and exhausted from our workday to cook dinner or take our children to the park.
It wasn’t always this way, and it doesn’t have to be. Last quarter, more than 100 Dining workers signed and delivered petitions to management calling for concrete action to address our concerns. Now we are coming together with workers and students across campus to remind Stanford’s managers and leaders that this University can be a community again, where we listen to each other and prioritize the well-being of students, workers, faculty and everyone who contributes to the life of the University. Let’s come together to make this vision a reality.
— SEIU 2007 Dining Organizing Committee
The SEIU 2007 Dining Organizing Committee is a group of workers from student dining halls across campus. Contact via organizer Seth Leibson at sleibson ‘at’ seiu2007.org.