Stanford: Act now to protect workers from COVID-19

Opinion by Ethan Chua
March 8, 2020, 11:18 p.m.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president
Persis Drell, provost
Shirley Everett, senior associate vice provost for residential and dining enterprises
Eric Montell, executive director of stanford dining
Robert Carpenter, director of operations for land, buildings, and real estate
Grover Brown, director of operations for UG-2

As has been publicized in numerous emails and releases from the administration, Stanford will be conducting more frequent cleaning in common areas and on commonly touched surfaces. Academic, dining and housing spaces are among those where elevated cleaning will be required. Workers have been asked to clean areas they normally do not, including co-ops, as well as clean spaces they normally clean once numerous times within the same working hours. Workers, especially custodians, have also been asked to work weekends. Workers have also not been informed of critical information including the number of possible cases of coronavirus on campus. Students for Workers’ Rights received reports from multiple sources that workers were notified by students in person, not by the administration, about cases such as that of the Stanford School of Medicine faculty member who tested positive for coronavirus.

This petition by Students for Workers’ Rights, signed so far by over 650 members of the Stanford community, is written in response to the University’s stated commitment to increase its cleaning operations in campus residences and facilities and to keep dining halls open. We want to highlight the increased vulnerability Stanford service workers, particularly food service workers and custodians, face due to the spread of COVID-19.

Service workers on Stanford’s campus have a strong commitment to the health and well-being of students and faculty. However, their concern for us should not come before their own safety.

Section 10.1 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement states: “The University shall provide a safe and healthful working environment in accordance with applicable federal, state, or other governmental laws or regulations.”

Due to the steps that the University is taking to protect students, including cancelling classes, restricting gatherings and travel, and increasing cleaning operations, it is clear that the spread of COVID-19 is a serious possibility on Stanford’s campus. Workers are a critical part of our campus community, and they, as much as students, deserve protection from exposure to the virus.

Workers should not be pressured or otherwise coerced to exceed their already challenging duties, especially if they themselves are especially at risk due to age or otherwise compromised immune systems. In addition, workers need support such that they are not continually overworked, leading to exhaustion, injury, and eventually shortages. We suggest that the administration adopt the following strategy to further support workers as full members of the Stanford community:

  • 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.
  • Restructure wage premiums for the duration of the danger of coronavirus in recognition of the increased vulnerability workers, especially food service workers and custodial staff, face in performing their regular duties. Specifically:
    • Provide a flat premium of 1.25x pay for collective bargaining unit members who continue working
    • Restructure the premiums described in Section 9.18 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement for the duration of the danger of coronavirus in the following manner:
      • Swing shift – from 1.1x pay to 1.35x pay
      • Owl shift – from 1.15x pay to 1.40x pay
      • Supertime – from 1.5x pay to 1.75x pay
      • Overtime – from 1.5x pay to 1.75x pay
      • Double-time – from 2x pay to 2.25x pay
  • Temporarily annul Section 7.6 “Pyramiding of Premiums” of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to allow workers to be compensated greater than 1.5x their regular hourly rate in situations where the aforementioned restructured premiums would place them above the 1.5x pay limit.
  • Commit to no retaliation against workers for refusing to perform work due to the danger of coronavirus. As stated in Section 10.3 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, “A worker’s refusal in good faith to perform an assigned task because of abnormally dangerous conditions shall not be just cause for discipline.”
  • Commit to instituting full-time “floater” positions for food service workers and custodial staff — “floaters” would be explicitly hired to assist in areas where food service workers and custodians are facing understaffing. “Floaters” would be compensated according to either the classification Food Service Worker I (A-60) or Custodian (A-67), and eligible for the same premiums outlined previously.
  • Immediately address ongoing complaints by custodial staff that the new “engineered water” cleaning system in residential buildings is not performing as well as the previous cleaning system by allowing custodial staff to revert to the old cleaning system if they so choose, as well as immediately convening a team consisting of R&DE representatives, custodial staff and scientific experts to re-evaluate the engineered water system.
  • Commit to instituting all aforementioned benefits for subcontracted workers, including UG-2 custodians who handle cleaning for academic buildings
  • Commit to communicating to staff exactly what the risk is for them to keep working, including but not limited to updates on how many confirmed cases of coronavirus there are; where these originated on campus; and what demographic characters render someone at greater risk. We as Stanford students are deeply troubled by the University’s lack of transparency on how workers are being compensated and supported as they take on this added burden. Workers should not be left defenseless on the front lines of this epidemic. The alarm and dismay of this sudden outbreak is not an excuse to overburden workers and endanger their safety in the attempt to protect students and faculty. Workers need our support now more than ever.

Please respond to this petition, as soon as possible, outlining how you will both fairly compensate and protect workers according to the aforementioned strategy.


Students for Workers’ Rights

To other readers, if you are similarly concerned with points raised and the University response, please sign on to the petition at

Contact Ethan Chua at ezlc327 ‘at’

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