Stanford University, union negotiators wrap up talks on worker benefits
Negotiations have finally wrapped up on a new five-year contract for Stanford University’s approximately 1,270 unionised workers, who have rallied for months for better hours, wages and working conditions.
Stanford’s service workers have become more vocal about their demands this past year, bringing their issues on matters such as overwork and lack of affordable housing to the fore by increasing student involvement and holding caucuses.
Getting student backing was a conscious move by Local 2007, Stanford’s Service Employees International Union (SEIU) chapter.
The chapter’s associate director Jenna Mains claimed earlier this year that the university had a tendency to care more about student concerns than that of its workers.
“We’ve noticed that when [Stanford] students are involved, [Stanford] management actually listens a little more,” she said in Stanford Daily.
In addition, Mains said student involvement has also emboldened the university’s service workers community so they were less afraid to show support for the union and stand up to management to demand benefits.
I stand with Stanford’s service workers, and call on @Stanford to address their demands for fair wages, affordable housing, healthcare, and other changes to the current contract. #unionSTRONG #MakeStanfordLaborFriendly @local2007 pic.twitter.com/K2dba6IkKC
— Stacy Villalobos (@StacyVillalobos) August 30, 2019
Friction between Stanford University and the workers union has existed for decades, marred by several protests through the years over issues that remain in contention today such as wages, housing and overwork.
According to a recent survey by SEIU Local 2007, up to 78 percent of workers say they have felt bullied, harassed or discriminated against in the workplace. Some 57 percent are renters, with 67 percent of them saying rent is unaffordable. Over 40 percent, meanwhile, claim working conditions have worsened since 2014.
Arielle DeVito, a member of the Stanford Support of Campus Workers’ Coalition, in a recent Op-Ed said workers, especially those in the dining halls, faced “chronic understaffing”, oftentimes forced to do the same amount of work meant for a much larger team.
“Unfortunately, “ he wrote, “these workers are not always treated with the respect they deserve.”
The issue of affordable housing has also continued to plague university workers, with median rents in San Mateo County rocketing at an unaffordable US$3,500 a month. Service workers are typically forced to live much further out from the campus in areas like Stockton or Sacramento where housing is more affordable, but this increases their travel time to and from the campus.
For some, the commute can go up to 6.75 hours per day.
Service workers are allowed to apply for housing in two Stanford-administered properties. But the waitlist is between 200 and 800 people, and even then, neither property currently has below-market-rate units available for university workers.
DeVito pointed out that university union workers were also excluded from Stanford’s multibillion-dollar expansion development plan for 2035, which contains proposals to build housing for faculty and undergraduate students, but not for staff or other workers.
As part of negotiations in the new collective agreement, SEIU Local 2007 proposed to have 10 percent of all housing units that are vacant or created after September 1 prioritised for union members. It also proposed to have below-market-rate units prioritised for workers whose families make under US$100,000 a year.
Another key concern for union members is Stanford’s practice of outsourcing work to contract workers.
Highlighting this in his Op-Ed, DeVito said subcontracting allowed the university to acquire labour while “discouraging unionising, keeping wages low, and withholding benefits from contracted workers that longer-term workers would be eligible for.”
The union, he said, wants this practice to stop entirely.
“Ultimately, I want to call attention to the profound irony of a university whose founding purpose is ‘to promote public welfare by exercising influence on behalf of humanity’, a university with a US$26.5 billion endowment known globally for its cutting-edge biomedical research and technological innovation, being unable to meet its own workers’ demands for affordable housing, healthcare and a living wage.
“When it comes to the service workers which are an undeniable part of its ‘inclusive and collaborative community’, Stanford can and should do better,” he said.
Now, after months of discussions, both union bargaining members and the university have reached a tentative agreement on a new workers contract. According to the university, negotiations came to a close August 31, the date of expiry for the previous contract, which has been in effect since 2014.
The school said in a press release that the new agreement covers wages and working conditions for SEIU-represented employees in a variety of roles, including food service workers, custodians, maintenance workers, groundskeepers, life science technicians, accelerator technologists and others in units across the university.
“The work of staff employees, including our union-represented employees, makes a vital contribution to the success of Stanford University,” said Elizabeth Zacharias, Stanford vice president for human resources.
“We thank SEIU Local 2007’s negotiating team for its hard work and collaboration in reaching this tentative agreement.”
For now, it remains to be seen what members of the negotiating table have agreed to.
However, an update by the SEIU Local 2007 from earlier in the week showed both parties were still at loggerheads over a number of key worker demands.
These included matters such as housing benefits; wage increase quantum and contract term; a proposal to block Stanford from outsourcing work to contract workers; wage adjustments; childcare benefits; and retiree healthcare, among others.
According to SEIU Local 2007, these proposals were either rejected outright by Stanford or negotiated down during the last bargaining session on August 26.
A vote by the members on the new agreement will take place this week.