New Stanford subcontractor threatens union jobs, workers say

April 12, 2023, 11:38 p.m.

For the past 17 years, Esperanza Gutierrez has worked as a janitor at Stanford Redwood City. Maria Almanza’s ten-year anniversary is due to come in May. But both Gutierrez and Almanza–and 20 other janitors who have been contracted to Stanford for many years–say their jobs are now at risk.

In late March, Stanford decided to switch from UG2—a maintenance service company used by the University to subcontract workers—to a new custodial provider, Service by Medallion, at its Redwood City campus. 

This shift is scheduled to take place this Friday, April 14—a change that the union claims will violate the existing union master contract and may impact the employment of 25 UG2 janitorial workers in Redwood City, with potential implications to all 7,000 union members.

On Wednesday, a dozen Stanford students drove to Redwood City at noon to show support for the workers advocating for their employment. Students and around ten workers who were on lunch break at the time also sought to present Executive Director of Operations Laura Di Mario with a petition which received over 500 signatures from Stanford affiliates in 24 hours. The petition demanded that “Stanford honor its contract” by not switching to Medallion and not requiring workers to go through the “rehiring” process.

Immediately upon entering Academy Hall, students and workers were asked to leave the premises and were escorted out by Security and Access Coordinator Terri Flamer and a security officer from Allied Universal.

Eréndida Cerrillo, a lobby ambassador in Academy Hall, said that students could not demonstrate or be present in the building because she said she felt “uncomfortable” with the number of students present and referenced a “demonstration” from Tuesday at the Redwood City campus. Cerrillo said that Redwood City was a “closed circuit campus.”

University spokesperson Luisa Rapport wrote that “[v]isitors, including students, are welcome at Stanford Redwood City,” and a sign-in process is required at all buildings. 

Stanford Students for Workers’ Rights (SWR), a student organization that helped lead the Wednesday events, wrote in a statement to The Daily that the “sign-in process… was not provided to [them]” despite their request to sign in and “engage in a constructive conversation.” They said that a clear explanation was not provided as to why they were not allowed to be inside the building. 

“We are disappointed that despite the fact that we were respectful, asking only to speak with an administrator, and barring that, leave a letter explaining our request, we were met with hostility and a lack of transparency,” SWR wrote about the encounter.

25 minutes from Stanford’s main campus, Stanford Redwood City is a 35-acre campus where approximately 2,700 Stanford staff members work in departments including the School of Medicine, Residential & Dining Enterprises, and Stanford University Libraries. 

At both its main campus and its Redwood City campus, Stanford’s service workers, including those who work in dining halls or clean academic buildings, are employed either directly by the University or are contracted by UG2. UG2 subcontracted workers are represented by United Service Workers West (USWW), a division in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). 

According to USWW, Medallion will treat UG2 workers as “new employees” in its onboarding process, requiring continuing employees to undergo E-Verify procedures, which is typically reserved for new hires. E-Verify is a government web-based system to check employees’ citizenship status, which USWW claims “places an undue burden on immigrant workers regardless of their status,” and “creates a hostile environment… against Stanford’s core values.”

USWW claims that treating UG2 workers as “new employees” is a violation of the master contract: the 2020-2024 Northern California Maintenance Contractors Agreement.

According to the master contract, “the service record of employees retained by the Employer shall not be broken by reason of such change in Employer. Vacation and sick leave seniority dates shall be honored from the prior Employer.” The master contract established that employees such as the UG2 workers should be kept and treated as “continuing” employees.

The University wrote in an email to The Daily that Medallion will offer UG2 employees at the Redwood City campus “continued employment at their current salaries.” They also noted that Stanford has no role in the contract between Medallion and the union or the onboarding process.  

“Medallion and the union that represents custodial workers are currently in discussion,” Rapport wrote. “We are hopeful that any transition issues can be resolved promptly and amicably.”

Rapport did not confirm if the employees would maintain their current benefits as a continued employee, including seniority.

Like any property owner in the Bay Area, Stanford can terminate their contract with a janitorial company with 30 days’ notice, according to USWW organizer Will Falvey. He said that the brief window to transfer union members to the new company is usually already a “hectic, difficult process” even when the new company is “respecting the contract in its entirety.”

“But when the incoming company isn’t respecting the union contract to which they are signatory, like Medallion, it makes the transition basically impossible for the union and its membership to navigate because of Medallion’s contempt for the process,” Falvey wrote to The Daily. “Members’ wages, benefit levels, healthcare coverage go into immediate risk when the incoming company doesn’t abide by the agreed-upon transition process.”

“We should respect that union contract,” Camacho said. “I don’t know why [an] employee told you that. I’m pretty sure they will respect any union contract, for sure.”

Rapport wrote that “UG2 has accommodated custodial staff that requested to be retained by them.” 

However, SWR wrote in a statement that it is “unfair” to call the employees “accommodated” by UG2: “Employees stated that they only received offers with night shift scheduling or at hours that were impossible for them because of household and family duties. UG2 only provided employees with the offer to transfer into inconvenient schedules that are not appropriate, especially given that many have seniority as daytime custodial staff.”

According to an online job search listing from April 6, Medallion is currently “urgently hiring” janitors in Redwood City. 

Ashwin Prabu ’25, a member of SWR who attended the direct action, said that the University’s “abrupt decision” left the employees’ job security “completely jeopardized.”

“Some people on this campus are treated as disposable for the benefit of the people who are benefiting from this campus, like students, like the faculty, like the researchers,” Prabu said. “People need to think about who is actually making Stanford run and how they’re being treated.”

Rapport said that the University “greatly appreciate[s] the work of the custodians who work on our campuses.”

SWR member Danny Sallis ’25 said that he believes students have strong leverage power with the University, and that more students should show their support for workers.

“Students are generally in a better position with the University because we can’t be fired,” Sallis said. “I guess we do have to be careful sometimes, but there’s not really as much of a fear of retaliation. We’re more free to use our voices or protest or make a petition, and it’s usually easier for us to not worry about any consequences.”

SWR acknowledged in their statement that while Stanford isn’t directly involved in many of the negotiations between the union and the subcontractors, the University “has a duty” to the long-time janitors and does have responsibility in choosing who to do business with. 

This is not the first time that janitors working on Stanford’s campus have turned to collective bargaining. Last May, University janitorial workers contracted through UG2 entered into negotiation meetings with UG2, calling for a $2 increase in hourly wages each year over the next three years, an increase in vacation days and hazard pay for work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The fact that this keeps happening over and over again, isn’t a coincidence. That at some point, it’s up to Stanford to actually step in and ideally stop subcontracting and just directly hire workers,” Sallis said. “But if they’re not going to do that, at least just make sure that subcontractors are acting ethically and acting legally.”

This article has been updated to clarify Falvey’s point about contract terminations.

Caroline Chen '26 is a Vol. 265 News Managing Editor. She is from Chapel Hill, N.C. and enjoys vegetable farms and long walks. Contact cqchen 'at'

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