Inside UG2 at Stanford: Surveillance, favoritism, intimidation

Feb. 2, 2024, 1:49 a.m.

Leer en español (Itzel Luna, Jacqueline Munis y Sofia Gonzalez-Rodriguez).

Nine sources included in this story have asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions. Pseudonyms have been used to improve readability. As most of these sources are currently subcontracted under UG2, The Daily is also withholding specific dates, instead using general timeframes, to protect their identities. 

Adriana, who has worked the night shift as a custodial worker on campus for nearly 20 years, said she was given additional work with no explanation from her supervisors last year. Her cleaning area was expanded to include a kitchen on a separate floor from the one she had been assigned to for years. 

Adriana said she always felt pride working at Stanford and “knows all the buildings” across campus. However, she and other workers described a culture of surveillance, intimidation, favoritism and discrimination by their subcontractor, UG2, that made their job “impossible.” 

“I used to work very well with [the supervisors]. I’ve always told them, ‘I like working with you guys. Help me and I’ll help you,’” Adriana said. “But, lately…we have had some very bad experiences.”

In interviews with The Daily, multiple custodial workers said UG2 has used intimidation tactics for years to isolate and instill a sense of job vulnerability among workers. They also said their union has been negligent to their concerns and ignores their calls for better working conditions.

To improve working conditions, workers said supervisor Citlali Bracamontes and manager of operations Victor Hugo Cuevas must be fired.

Cuevas declined to comment. Bracamontes could not be reached for comment. 

“What I want is that all of Stanford, the Stanford president, I want him to know what they are doing with me and the rest of my coworkers. That it’s enough — enough with this company,” said Carmen, a night shift employee who has worked at Stanford for over 10 years. 

Custodial workers are subcontracted to clean academic buildings and community spaces, through UG2, a national property services subcontracting company. Over the past 15 years, Stanford has changed their subcontracting company three times, but the same company leaders have transferred over.    

UG2 became the University’s main janitorial subcontractor in 2019, but most of these employees have worked at Stanford for decades. There are around 180 custodial workers subcontracted under UG2 on campus, according to Grover Brown, the associate vice president of operations, West Coast who is based at Stanford. Although he declined to give an exact number, Brown estimated that 75 work in the day and 105 work at night. 

The employees’ grievances are not new. Workers have shared concerns about overwork for more than a decade. Student activists have also long criticized the University’s cost-cutting practice of subcontracting, saying it creates inequitable work environments.  

“Clients like Stanford would be expected to minimize the gap in wages between positions, such as janitorial staff and more highly paid employees. The same pressure does not exist for contractors,” said Zofia Trexler ’25, a member of Stanford Students for Workers’ Rights (SWR). 

Subcontracted workers are often paid lower and given less time off compared to workers directly hired by the University, activists said. This has remained true at Stanford, where UG2 subcontracted workers were the first to be laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic and struggled to get pay continuation by the University, according to activists.   

‘We are not animals’: The grueling night shift

The night shift, which starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 2:30 a.m., can be grueling, and employees who work it said they face the brunt of the cleaning load. 

“I’m always killing myself there … I can’t even walk but I’m doing the work here the best I can,” said Manuel, who has worked the night shift for almost 10 years.

Several workers called the amount of work they are given each night “impossible” to complete. 

Martina, who works the night shift, said she is expected to clean all the restrooms, showers, conference rooms, offices, cubicle spaces, kitchens, break rooms and common areas in a five-floor building that is open 24/7 by herself. Another employee who works the night shift said they are in charge of cleaning three different buildings on campus. 

Workers said they regularly have to skip lunch and breaks during 8-hour shifts because they feel they can’t finish the areas assigned to them on time. Some also said mandatory work meetings were scheduled during their lunch breaks. 

“They always intimidate us and, to be honest, we need the work,” said Camila, who has worked at Stanford for over 10 years. “We’re not here just for pleasure. We’re all here for necessity. So they don’t have to treat us like animals — we’re humans.”

Workers said their UG2 supervisors always blame the University when concerns are raised regarding the demanding standards and new regulations.

“All the time, Stanford is the one at fault. They say, ‘We have nothing to do with it because Stanford is asking for this and Stanford is demanding this,’” Carmen said. 

But the workers, some of whom have been working at the University for over a decade, said they doubt this is true.

“I don’t think Stanford is the one saying, ‘Talk rudely to the people.’ Stanford is not going to tell them to treat us badly,” Camila said.

Both UG2 and the University confirmed that the University has no say in the employment or supervision of UG2 staff. University spokesperson Luisa Rapport said UG2 is solely responsible “for employing and supervising their custodial workers, including evaluating employee performance.”

But according to Brown, the University is allowed to both inspect buildings and hire third parties to do so. “Stanford has an obligation to make sure any vendor is working and providing as necessary,” he wrote, adding that UG2 normally does joint inspections with the University. 

UG2 and workers’ union reject disability accommodations

Multiple employees have requested accommodations for disabilities that were mandated by their doctors, according to documents reviewed by The Daily. They say their requests were denied, and they were told to either go on disability leave or quit. 

One worker, Elena, said she was forced into disability leave without any explanation or guidance last November, after working at UG2 since 2016. She has been out of work for nearly three months. 

“It’s a lot of stress because, at night, I wake up and to be honest, I can’t sleep,” Elena said. 

Four years ago, Elena was first put on disability leave for 10 months after undergoing surgery. When she returned to work, Elena was given a new cleaning assignment that didn’t include stairwells to comply with her disability accommodations. 

But in November, UG2 supervisors unexpectedly added multiple flights of stairs to her assignment. Elena said she reminded them about her disability accommodations the next day. A letter sent from her doctor to UG2, reviewed by The Daily, said Elena was not allowed to climb stairs or work at a height.

But Elena was informed that the company could not accommodate her disability. They told her to go home without explaining if she was being put on disability leave or fired, she said.  

Since being sent home, Elena said no one from UG2 has contacted her despite multiple office visits and calls to supervisors. After a month, she received a letter from UG2 in the mail stating her accommodation request was denied.

“And that’s how they left me,” Elena said. “I feel discriminated against because since that day, my life has changed. Because it was for no reason. I’ve never had a complaint or any report of something bad I’ve done. Nothing.”

Carmen, another night shift worker, said she has faced months of disability-based discrimination. 

When she developed a neurological condition last year, Carmen’s doctor imposed restrictions on her job responsibilities. But when Carmen requested those accommodations, UG2 declined and told her to take a three-month disability leave.

“I cried… I cried because of impotence. I told them this was discrimination. They are discriminating against me for my illness. I have to pay rent. I have to pay for insurance. I have to pay for everything. What do I do?” Carmen said.

She did not work for three months — the maximum amount of yearly disability leave — before having to return to her job in violation of her doctor’s orders, she said.

“What they want is for me to leave, that I just leave on my own, but I need to work,” Carmen said. Carmen’s job supports both herself and her husband, and the disability pay was less than her income from working for the company. 

Carmen said when she spoke to Cuevas about accommodating her disability, he asked her, “Why don’t you go back to Mexico, instead?”

Cuevas declined to comment. Edgar Colon, a vice president at UG2, said UG2 is not legally required to create a new position or reassign tasks to accommodate a worker. He said he does not recall any incident where UG2 fired an employee due to not being able to meet a disability accommodation, but “employers at that point, if there are no other solutions, may result in that.” 

“It’s not a decision that we make on the fly. It’s a very detailed process … we always factor the law and the safety and wellbeing,” Colon said. 

While some workers’ disability accommodations are denied, others are given preferential treatment, some say. Workers said supervisors play favorites when it comes to assigning shifts, consistently denying some requests to change shifts and approving others.

Workers said they felt that Marlen Gonzalez Hernandez, a UG2 human resources and operations coordinator, gives preferential treatment to her family members who work at the company.

Gonzalez Hernandez could not be reached directly for comment. Colon denied any preferential treatment and said Gonzalez Hernandez has “zero oversight, zero autonomy, to provide any sort of operational direction.”

A UG2 spokesperson confirmed it is company policy that family members are not allowed to supervise their relatives. The contract between the workers’ union and UG2, obtained by The Daily, states that “all forms of favoritism” are prohibited. 

‘We’re paying, for what?’: Workers find little support from union

Workers say they have been complaining about this poor workplace culture for years, but that when they turn to the union for support, it has offered them little.

Multiple employees told The Daily that their union, United Service Workers West (USWW), has denied multiple grievance requests filed against UG2 on the grounds of discrimination, harassment and overwork. 

Their union organizer, Abigail Amador, frequently ignores the grievances they file with the union about their workplace conditions and is “on the side” of UG2, workers said. 

“Instead of coming to help us, she [Amador] comes to finish demolishing us.” Camila said. “In front of the company, she told us that we should be grateful that we have our job.” Another worker said that Amador also told them they should be grateful for their job “even if they’re overworked.”

USWW spokesperson Stephen Boardman declined to answer questions related to specific employees or incidents. Amador declined to comment.

Several workers said they feel unrepresented by their union, leaving them unsupported in advocating for themselves against UG2. 

“So, we’re paying union membership for what? For nothing, because we’re just paying to pay. They don’t come to hold meetings. They don’t come to see what problems we have,” Camila said. 

Carmen said she asked Amador to file a grievance to UG2 through the union, which was denied. Elena’s request to file a grievance was also denied, according to documents reviewed by The Daily. When grievances are denied by the union, workers have little recourse. 

“I don’t know anyone who can guide me. Money? Well, I don’t have money to pay for a lawyer. How am I going to pay for a lawyer?” Carmen said. 

Boardman did not respond to questions about the specific circumstances that can lead to the approval or denial of grievances, or what the grievance process looks like.

“If there are specific issues that our members have with an organizer, they can take them up with the union directly,” he wrote.

Boardman wrote that members can also stop by the SEIU-USWW office or call to file a grievance. The office is in San José, 23 miles away from Stanford’s campus – about a 30 minute drive. He noted that “if a member reported a violation of the CBA or the law, a grievance will be filed.” 

In October, workers said they sent a letter to the company asking them to remove Amador, which the union denied. 

A system of surveillance 

UG2 uses a point system for citations, which they give in the form of tickets. Workers said that as they understood it, the first point is a verbal warning, the second is a written citation and the third is grounds for termination. 

But workers said this system is exploited by supervisors to instill intimidation among staff. Manuel said that if a worker said they could not complete their cleaning assignment, “they’ll give you a strike because you talked back to a supervisor.”  

Colon said workers can accrue up to 11 points a year before termination is considered, adding that the point system was only implemented at Stanford in 2019.

“This is essential for maintaining operational efficiency and respecting our team’s commitments. We ensure every new employee receives a comprehensive briefing on these policies to foster understanding and adherence,” he said. 

Workers, however, said the point system creates additional stress. “They’re putting a lot of pressure on people. They scold them. For anything they want to give a warning. They want to give tickets and keep giving them, because with enough tickets, they will let you go,” UG2 worker Rafael said. 

“You already know that every day, there will be something. You come to work thinking, ‘Oh, let’s see what they come up with today,’” Camila said. “They ask for too much and offer too little. They demand too much and don’t give us anything.” 

On Nov. 20, several workers said they were told by supervisors “the state” was coming to do inspections and so they could no longer store their personal belongings in supply closets. Some workers resolved to hide their belongings in closets and cabinets around the buildings they work in. 

Brown denied hearing about or announcing a state visit. He said that in general, it is company policy that employees cannot store their belongings in closets.

When asked where workers could store their personal belongings, Brown said workers often put them in their cars and could also put their meals near breakrooms in the buildings they work at. However, several employees told The Daily they carpool, get rides from family or take public transportation to work. 

In the same interview, Brown later said employees actually are allowed to keep their belongings in supply closets but must take them out when their shift ends. Employees told The Daily as recently as December that they were still told they cannot store their belongings in supply closets.

UG2 workers look for student and Stanford support

Workers said they have more support from students and faculty than their own company. 

SWR member Kyra Dorado Teigen ’24 said that as students, who are “the main people who the University purports to serve,” they should feel responsible for creating and maintaining relationships with community members like UG2 workers — “the people who [really] run this campus.” 

University spokesperson Luisa Rapport wrote Stanford has a “zero-tolerance policy toward discriminatory or harassing conduct in the workplace.”

“We expect UG2 to address the concerns of its employees who work at Stanford in a fair and prompt manner. UG2 has assured us in the past that they share that commitment and have procedures in place to protect employees from discrimination and harassment,” Rapport wrote.

The University did not respond to multiple requests for comment about specific incidents or questions about University facilities. 

“We need help from the students,” Camila said. “See, it feels so nice that the people from our buildings support us … My people in my building are such good people. They always say thank you for your work, thank you.”

Itzel Luna '25 is a News Managing Editor and Fellowships Coordinator. Luna is originally from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles and plans to major in Sociology on the data science, markets and management track with a minor in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. Contact her at iluna 'at' stanford.eduJacqueline Munis is the investigations and enterprise editor at The Daily. She previously served as an Equity Project editor. Contact her at jmunis 'at'

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