By Kate Selig
Over 130 people employed by UG2, a national custodial service Stanford contracts with, will be laid off by April 30 without additional compensation, according to UG2 Director of Human Resources Dahianara Liranzo. As of Friday, 73 employees had received notice that they would be laid off, according to Service Employees International Union (SEIU) California 1st Vice President Denise Solis.
In response, Stanford Students for Workers Rights (SWR) and SEIU are mobilizing to guarantee protections for workers: SWR members have launched a petition and co-authored an Undergraduate Senate resolution calling for the University to pay subcontracted workers through the end of spring quarter. SEIU is also negotiating to guarantee that all workers will be brought back when the pandemic passes.
UG2 hopes to bring back “some or all” of the employees once “business conditions improve” and “government officials permit our customer(s) to resume operations,” Liranzo wrote in a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) notice to government agencies.
While Stanford has committed to pay continuation for regular employees, this policy does not extend to subcontracted employees, a position the University doubled down on in a Thursday email to students.
UG2 employees are not the first subcontracted workers on campus to be laid off in the face of the growing COVID-19 crisis: Residential Education suspended the Student Organized Services (SOS) spring-quarter service contract but said it would provide two weeks of compensation and benefits for the 56 kitchen staff affected “as a gesture of gratitude and goodwill.” Bon Appetit workers at the Graduate School of Business cafe have also been laid off.
‘There are no jobs anywhere’
Stanford asked UG2 to “decrease … costs,” which initiated the layoffs, according to Solis. SEIU represents 22,000 janitors in California, including UG2, Bon Appetit and SOS employees.
University spokesperson E.J. Miranda declined to comment on whether Stanford had made this request.
One UG2 employee, who has worked at Stanford for the past two years and wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said the layoffs took him by surprise.
“They [UG2] made some schedule changes because of the situation [with COVID-19], but they did not tell us that we were going to be fired,” he said.
Solis said that the lack of other job opportunities combined with a loss of healthcare coverage and the need to pay rent would be devastating for people laid off.
“It’s not just those 100 workers [laid off by Bon Appetit and UG2],” Solis said. “We’re talking about 100 or more families being impacted. People are one paycheck away from being homeless.”
UG2 spokesperson Kathleen Luce wrote in a statement to The Daily that laid-off employees would be “provided with information regarding unemployment benefits in the state of California.”
Solis said that navigating California’s unemployment benefits system is difficult, especially for those without citizenship.
“Not everyone is a citizen, and there is some fear in the immigrant community to even apply for any of that,” Solis said.
The UG2 employee who said he was surprised by the layoffs added that the loss of his job was affecting him “economically a lot and emotionally more.”
“There are no jobs anywhere,” he said. “I have to wait at home and see what I am going to do. I am starting to bite my nails with worry.”
Solis said that the first round of workers told that they would be laid off were notified on Tuesday that their paid last day would be on Friday.
“A [short] notice is not helpful to workers who live paycheck to paycheck to survive, especially in the Bay Area, where our cost of living is just really ridiculously high,” Solis said.
Liranzo wrote in the WARN notice that due to the “not reasonably foreseeable” circumstances of COVID-19, UG2 had been unable to provide the full 60-day notice the company usually grants.
SEIU, SWR, ASSU step up
The Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Undergraduate Senate passed a resolution in support of pay continuation for Stanford service workers through the end of spring quarter on Thursday. The bill was approved by a 9-0 vote in the ASSU Slack workspace; five of the 14 senators did not vote.
“Workers are a critical part of our campus community, and they, as much as students, deserve stability and safety,” the resolution states. “The Undergraduate Senate strongly condemns Stanford University for its refusal to extend pay continuation to its contracted workers, who provide similarly essential services to the University as its regular employees.”
In addition to pay continuation for subcontracted workers through the end of spring quarter, the resolution calls for the University to provide two weeks of paid coronavirus-related sick leave and a 10% hazard pay premium for workers affiliated with the University who continue to work.
Miranda declined to comment on the resolution.
“Other peer institutions that are on quarter systems and have much smaller endowments have committed to paying their workers through the end of spring term,” said Adam Nayak ’22, an SWR member who co-authored the resolution. “At the end of the day, it’s up to the administration and if they decide to prioritize workers.”
SWR has taken a variety of steps to raise awareness of workers’ issues, including starting a fundraiser for laid off Stanford workers and making plans to collaborate with Stanford faculty and staff who circulated a petition calling for the University to support all staff as “if the University were running at normal in-person capacity.”
SWR has also launched a petition of its own for the University to adopt pay continuation for all service workers through the end of spring quarter. The petition follows a prior petition SWR circulated in March that called upon Stanford to “protect, inform and fairly compensate” workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. The first petition garnered over 2,000 signatures.
“The University needs to live up to the idea that it’s a community,” said SWR member Arushi Gupta ’23, another co-author of the resolution. “Laying off people who’ve been here for a long time and not guaranteeing pay in the midst of a pandemic is not being a Stanford community.”
SEIU is also taking steps to attempt to guarantee more protections for laid off workers. Since the group cannot pursue in-person protests and pickets due to the shelter-in-place order, Solis said, the union is being “a little more creative” in its outreach.
The union is calling on elected political leaders, Stanford alumni and people on social media to put more pressure on the University, while working with SWR to coordinate efforts on campus. The union is also working to guarantee that all laid off employees will be eventually brought back with their seniority wages and benefits, according to Solis.
Drell doubles down
Provost Persis Drell maintained that Stanford would not pay workers employed by a contractor in a Thursday email to students, citing “massive economic disruptions” from COVID-19 that include losses to program revenue, increased pandemic response costs and hits to the stock market. The University’s current policy guarantees pay continuation for direct hires.
“We are seeking to minimize impacts to our regular workforce to the greatest extent possible,” Drell wrote.
SWR member and ASSU co-director of community responsibility Olivia Fu ’22, who also co-authored the resolution, said the University’s decision to not extend pay continuation to subcontracted workers indicates a lack of priorities more than a lack of funds, citing President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s yearly salary of over $1 million.
“While Stanford is facing financial difficulties, they definitely have the capacity to pay their workers,” Fu said. “It’s just something that they don’t view as an essential function, which is unfair.”
In an email to SEIU, Stanford Employee & Labor Relations Associate Vice President Alex Gurza wrote that pay continuation concerns should be addressed by UG2, not the University, since Stanford does not directly employ the subcontracted workers represented by SEIU.
Gupta said the distinction between directly employed and subcontracted workers was not significant.
“[Subcontracted workers] are not technically employees of the University, but a lot of them have been working at Stanford for over a decade,” Gupta said. “In terms of the work that they do and their relationship to Stanford on an individual level, it’s not super different from a direct hire.”
Solis added that despite widespread financial turmoil, all other organizations with subcontracted SEIU workers had guaranteed some amount of pay beyond their last day of work.
“Every other responsible client in the Silicon Valley that [SEIU] has engaged with has met this moment by doing right by their subcontracted workers,” Solis said. “Facebook, Google, even Apple after we twisted their arm a bit has done that, done something beyond just laying off their subcontracted workers without pay.”
The UG2 employee quoted earlier said he did not expect the University to change its stance.
“If [SWR] made the petition days ago, and Stanford did not give [the students] a favorable response, unfortunately, here you can assume that it does not matter to [Stanford],” he said.
Quotes from the UG2 employee and Liranzo’s letter to UG2 employees were given in Spanish and were translated into English. Some were lightly edited in translation.