Students for Workers’ Rights concludes fundraiser for laid-off workers, plans for upcoming year

Aug. 20, 2020, 2:48 p.m.

Stanford Students for Workers’ Rights (SWR) recently closed their fundraiser to support laid-off Row and Suites workers for the upcoming academic year after reaching their goal of $30,000 in just twelve days, according to a July 26 Instagram post. The organization is now making plans for the coming virtual fall quarter.

“If Stanford respected, acknowledged, protected, and fairly compensated EVERYONE who makes the university possible (with cleaning staff literally being the most important to any chance of re-opening) then there would be no need for fundraising at all,” Sarah Goodman ’20, a member of SWR who works on the fundraiser distribution side, wrote in an email to The Daily. “This is not an unavoidable COVID impact. It’s a university policy choice.”

SWR has gained significant recognition within the Stanford community for their work since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The student-run group is committed to supporting Stanford’s service workers and serving as “a space for students and surrounding community members to be involved in the many forms of labor advocacy at Stanford,” according to its website. 

“It’s hard to not feel like Stanford turned their back on us when we needed them the most, but I do understand the health and safety of the students is their #1 priority,” wrote Student Organized Services (SOS) worker Casey Miller in a statement provided to The Daily by Goodman. “I am beyond grateful for the love and support (financial as well) we’ve received from the students. It warms my heart so much that you all care as much as you do.”

SWR hopes to transition away from the focus on monetary aid going forward, instead noting that fundraising, though helpful in the immediate, is “unsustainable” in the long-run.

“These fundraisers do not address the deeper needs and concerns: layoffs and workplace protections,” Goodman wrote. “That is THE most important work that we can add our power to. That is why we are transitioning away from fundraising. It’s unsustainable while Stanford’s policy failures remain.”

Originally known as the Campus Workers’ Coalition, SWR was founded in 2018 as a way to bridge various groups dedicated to labor organizing on campus. One of their earliest initiatives included mobilizing the student body to express support for contract negotiations conducted by the on-campus labor union, SEIU Local 2007.

“After [working with SEIU Local 2007], a lot of our campaigns were aimed at rethinking the way we engage with workers,” SWR member Ethan Chua ’21 said. “We were realizing that there were advantages we had as students that the union didn’t necessarily have.”

Chua attributed SWR’s core to the relationships its members organically form with workers on campus.  

Last fall, SWR worked to support Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable Future 2035; plan a shuttle-bus pilot to East Palo Alto, where many workers live; and amplify the concerns of custodial staff. Even so, each was met with limited success.

“When COVID-19 hit, that’s when it was all hands on deck,” Chua said, describing the organization’s months-long campaign that began first with demanding that Stanford better protect, inform and compensate its service workers in light of COVID-19, and later, that subcontracted workers at Stanford would receive the same benefits as direct hires during the pandemic.

Over the past few months, Stanford’s promise to extend pay continuance to subcontracted workers was announced to students only — workers themselves were not informed, Chua wrote.

According to Chua, the “uneven implementation” of the pay continuance also meant that workers employed by the contractor UG2 did not receive payments until six weeks after the announcement. A lack of an accountability mechanism and ambiguities over the difference between contracted workers and vendors also excluded some workers from pay.

University spokesman E.J. Miranda previously wrote in a statement to The Daily that Stanford continues to uphold its current commitment to contract workers, including those employed by UG2, through Aug. 31, and that the University has “worked closely with [its] contracting firms to ensure that… these firms’ employees are maintaining full income and health benefits.”

SWR is also currently working to amplify the UG2 workers’ demands for hazard pay and concerns of overwork.

“Right now, we’re trying to amplify the broken promises of Stanford’s pay-continuance policy as we also prepare for the next academic year,” Chua said.

Planning for the remote academic year 

For SWR, the shift to remote learning has meant adapting to new ways of organizing to amplify workers’ voices. But in some ways, the shift to a virtual space has helped the group spread their message to a wider audience, especially as SWR turned to social media to mobilize the campus community.

The online format has also allowed individuals to contribute in cases where geographical distance may have been a barrier before. SWR’s virtual press conference on April 23 drew national media coverage and included statements from Stanford workers and union representatives. Prominent Stanford alumni, including former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and 2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro ’96 and Rep. Joaquin Castro ’96 (D-Tex.), also made appearances. 

“Looking back at that time, that’s definitely one thing that makes me really inspired to work with the people that I work with — everything from when folks showed up to the Faculty Senate Zoom meeting with SWR backgrounds to when we put together that press conference, which wouldn’t have been possible, paradoxically, in non-COVID times,” Chua said. 

Chua stated that these developments are just the beginning — SWR is hoping to prepare a plan of action once Stanford’s policies become clearer for the next academic year, though they anticipate massive layoffs and other challenges.

“Our next step is that we want to bring attention back to the ways Stanford has reneged on its promises on pay continuance, hazard pay for UG2 workers and PPE,” Chua said.

Currently, SWR is working to draft a campus workers’ Bill of Rights, a series of principles that will better articulate their vision for Stanford. They are also focusing on internally restructuring in response to the massive community interest they received during COVID-19.

“We were also a very small group before — there were six to 10 really active members — and then suddenly we had more than a hundred people on the Slack,” Chua said. “During COVID, we never really got around to onboarding people, and people lost momentum, so we’re trying to establish a more sustainable structure.”

SWR’s goal is to leave a legacy of “reimagining what should Stanford be,” according to Chua. “As a movement for labor justice and workers’ rights, our analysis and work have an anti-capitalist approach. We stand firmly against the class stratification that Stanford represents,” he said.

Chua maintains that improving the lives of workers will require reimagining Stanford “as a place not where class is reproduced but as a place where labor is recognized, where human dignity is recognized.” It means “radically reimagining the University by putting workers front and center,” Chua said.

Contact Alena Zeng at alenazeng ‘at’ gmail.com.

Alena is a high school student writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. She was also a high school intern for The Daily in summer 2019.

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