Stanford’s stated support for subcontracted workers has been misleading, union says

April 24, 2020, 2:28 a.m.

Laid-off subcontracted workers, union representatives and current and former Stanford students — including former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro ’96 and Rep. Joaquin Castro ’96 (D-Tex.) — called on Stanford to expand protections and compensation for all University-affiliated employees through the end of the quarter at a press conference hosted by Stanford Students for Workers’ Rights (SWR) on Thursday afternoon. 

Union representatives and activists say Stanford was misleading in its previous announcement that it would help contract firms maintain pay continuation through June 15. The University offered to help UG2 provide only health insurance to its employees, according to Service Employees International Union (SEIU) California 1st Vice President Denise Solis.

UG2 employees said the lack of continuation pay and benefits from the company were causing financial strain. Some employees have been out of work for a month and have rent payments due soon, according to Solis.

“Stanford has an obligation to do its best with its $26 billion endowment to make sure that people who go out and work hard every day, as janitors, as groundskeepers, in so many ways throughout the University, that help make it the great University it is, that Stanford does its part to take care of them in this time of crisis,” Julián Castro said.

Pre-recorded statements from the Castros were played. California State Senate candidate Jackie Fielder ’16 M.A. ’16, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs ’12 and Bernie 2020 California Political Director Jane Kim ’99 also spoke on the Zoom call. 

At the press conference, SWR called on the University to ensure all contracted workers receive pay continuation and hazard pay through the end of the quarter. They also requested that Stanford give all University-affiliated employees two additional weeks’ paid sick leave and communicate COVID-19 updates to employees as promptly as it does to students. 

On April 14, Provost Persis Drell pledged that the University would work with contract firms so that the firms would “be supported in maintaining income and benefits” for subcontracted employees.

This promise has not been kept, according to Solis, who said that UG2, which plans to lay off over 130 subcontracted employees by the end of the month without pay continuation, has received support from the University to provide only health insurance through the end of the quarter. 

UG2 Director of Operations Grover Brown confirmed UG2 had discussed assistance with health care premium payments with the University but did not comment on whether the University had offered assistance with pay continuation.

University spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in a statement to The Daily on Thursday that the University “remain[s] committed to working with the contract firms.”

“These firms will be supported in maintaining income and benefits for their employees through June 15, through University resources and resources offered by the government,” Miranda wrote.

Miranda did not comment on whether the University had plans to expand worker protections beyond what was outlined in Drell’s email.

Miranda added in an email on Friday that the University has been working with nearly a dozen contract firms and offered support “depending on the specific needs and requests of each employer.”

“In addition to direct financial support to those companies so they can maintain full income and health benefits, we are helping firms navigate state unemployment and federal assistance programs,” Miranda wrote.

SWR also launched a no-donation pledge that seniors, graduates and donors can sign, committing to not donate to the University until it meets SWR’s demands. The petition has gained 128 signatures since launching two days ago, according to SWR member Nizhoni Begay ’20. 

The ‘right thing’ to do

As evidence that Stanford should expand workers’ protections, alumni cited the University’s endowment —  valued at $27.7 billion in August 2019  — and peer institutions like Harvard that have agreed to pay continuation for subcontracted employees through the end of the term.

“You know, our university is very fortunate to be one of the wealthiest universities, not only in the United States, but in the world,” Joaquin Castro said. “And so I hope that we can do right by these workers.”

Miranda declined to comment on criticism that Stanford ought to pay workers based on the size of its endowment and actions taken by peer institutions.

Laid-off UG2 employees said the lack of continuation pay was causing them severe financial hardship.

“We are worried about food, rent and our families,” said UG2 employee Alex García. “We want Stanford to communicate with us and to pay us. We know that Stanford can do this because they have plenty of donations and a lot of land.”

SWR member Adam Nayak ’22 read statements from two UG2 employees describing the impact of the lost paychecks. One employee said that without work, her children did not have food.

“I don’t have the luxury to just see how life goes and rest because we don’t have money laying around — we are behind on payments,” Nayak said, reading the employee’s statement.

UG2 employees reported having received a one-time “depósito de ayuda” from UG2, a check of less than a dollar, according to Nayak.

“It’s like they’re making fun of us,” Nayak said, reading a second employee’s statement.

Brown said the checks were small refunds of union dues deducted in prior periods. Miranda did not comment on whether the University was aware of the checks or their purpose.

Solis said the workers’ statements were evidence that the University needed to provide funds to UG2 to ensure pay continuation and benefits, saying that government assistance would not be sufficient.

“Rent is coming up the first of the month, and they will have already been a month without work,” Solis said. “This is not just about those workers — it is their families as well.”

Miranda wrote that the University recognized that “the personal and financial challenges people are facing during this unprecedented time.”

Tubbs described extending pay continuation to subcontracted employees as the “right thing” to do.

“Being half-right is still wrong,” he said. “Stanford’s values aren’t measured by how many Nobel Prize grants we have but how we treat people.”

April 24, 3:33 p.m. PDT: This article has been updated to include comment from Miranda in an email sent on Friday about University efforts to assist contract firms.

April 24: 3:48 p.m. PDT: This article has been corrected to reflect the accurate spelling of Nayak’s last name. A previous version of the article incorrectly spelled his last name as “Nayack.” The Daily regrets this error.

Quotes from UG2 employees were given in Spanish and were translated into English. Some were lightly edited in translation.

Kate Selig served as the Vol. 260 editor in chief. Contact her at kselig 'at'

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