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COVID-19 protections for contracted workers at Escondido Village spark safety concerns

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Contracted workers on Stanford’s Escondido Village Graduate Residences (EVGR) project may have worked under inadequate safety conditions during Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order, union representatives and student activists say.

Non-unionized contract workers lacked personal protective equipment (PPE) and were not practicing adequate social distancing while working or on break, according to several sources who visited the worksite over the past month and The Daily’s own April 23 visit to the site. 

Wearing masks or other COVID-19 related PPE at construction sites was not required by Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 construction field safety guidelines, which were in effect through April.

But the county required sites to ensure that workers “maintain the recommended minimum 6 feet separation from one another at all times feasible” and “establish a daily screening protocol for arriving staff.” According to a laborer at the EVGR site who requested anonymity due to privacy concerns, the site did not test workers for symptoms of COVID-19.

Additionally, Provost Persis Drell’s March 30 announcement that construction at the EVGR site would continue through shelter in place specified that workers would adhere to public safety practices like the use of PPE and social distancing when possible. 

University spokesperson E.J. Miranda told The Daily that all on-campus construction has complied with “rigorous COVID-19 safety protocols” since shelter-in-place protocols have come into effect. 

“Protecting the health and safety of construction workers and the university community is a critical concern,” Miranda said. 

But Gilberto Rivera and Rene Camacho, business agents for Local Union 270 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA), said they observed workers not wearing masks or practicing social distancing on multiple visits to the EVGR site over the past month. 

Rivera described the lack of coronavirus protections for workers at the site as “unacceptable.” 

“One of the guys, we talked to him about why he’s not wearing at least a mask … he talked to one of the persons in charge in that area and [that person] just ignored him, he just told him, ‘Don’t worry about it, keep working,’” Camacho said. 

Rivera and Camacho said that the workers without PPE worked for the San Jose-based company Colony Landscaping, a non-union contractor that performs landscaping work at the EVGR site.

Jose Godoy, a worker employed by Colony, told The Daily at the EVGR site that he did not feel unsafe working under the current conditions.

“Right now they haven’t given us any masks,” Godoy said. “They do tell us that for people who want to wear a mask, they can, but they haven’t brought a ton of them, that they’re readily available.”

“I feel comfortable working … a lot of us are comfortable,” he added. “They are trying their best.”

Colony-employed workers’ coronavirus protections were worse than those of other workers at the EVGR site, Rivera said.

“The general contractor is Vance Brown, which is leading the project very well. Their subcontractors are doing pretty good,” Rivera said. “[Colony is] working side by side with this big contractor, and other subcontractors there. It is very obvious to see and spot the difference from the other companies.”

A laborer employed by Vance Brown who requested anonymity due to privacy concerns told The Daily that Vance Brown, a Bay Area construction company Stanford has contracted with for several athletic facilities around campus, was providing masks and gloves to all its employees. 

Vance Brown did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment. 

Forest Peterson M.S. ’07, a Ph.D. candidate in civil and environmental engineering and a member of Stanford Students for Workers’ Rights, said he visited the EVGR site on April 20 in response to a tip from a graduate student living near the site. He described discrepancies in safety equipment and PPE that he believed depended on what contractor the workers were employed by and whether workers were union members or not. 

“It was horrible,” he said. “You got a guy standing there, he’s probably wearing $500 worth of equipment … and he’s sitting next to a guy with $20 boots he got from Walmart and $15 jeans and no safety equipment.” 

Peterson expressed broader concerns about the safety conditions at the EVGR site, including discrepancies in what kinds of hard hats Colony workers were wearing and a lack of safety glasses or dust masks. 

“I’ve been on bad construction projects, but nothing this bad,” said Peterson, who has 20 years of experience working in construction. “I mean, from my standpoint, the pandemic doesn’t even exist — I have fundamental issues with this the way these workers are treated.”

Colony did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Land Use Communications Officer Joel Berman did not comment on reports of inadequate PPE at the EVGR worksite.

Construction on the EVGR site, which had been approved to continue through the county’s shelter-in-place order, was paused last week “per new guidance from the county,” Berman told The Daily. Berman declined to specify what new information prompted the site’s temporary closure. 

Construction is now slated to resume this week after Santa Clara County’s revised order for May comes into effect, which permits landscaping services and construction work but imposes more stringent safety requirements for construction sites, including the provision of PPE and the wearing of “face coverings” when appropriate. 

Rivera said he hopes Stanford will investigate the complaints surrounding the EVGR site once construction resumes.

“We would want the University … to do the right thing and help these guys,” he said. “They’re doing a very good job.”

Contact Grace Carroll at gac23 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Daniel Wu at dwu21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Daniel Wu '21 is a Desk Editor for News, and also contributes to Sports, Arts & Life and The Daily's Graphics team. Contact him at dwu21 'at' stanford.edu.