Give Stanford Janitors Same COVID-19 Benefits as Staff, Students Demand

A person walks past archways during a quiet morning at Stanford University on March 9, 2020.  (Philip Pacheco/Getty Images)

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanford has continued to provide pay and benefits for its full-time and part-time employees. But some students at the university say those same protections don't exist for some subcontracted employees.

Stanford is continuing to pay its employees through June 15, whether or not they're working on campus. But subcontractors hired by UG2, a custodial service company that provides the university with roughly 200 janitorial and custodial staff, aren't getting those same benefits. 

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Stanford University Provost Persis Drell on April 14 released a letter to students and staff assuring them that employees, even those represented by a union, would receive pay continuation and access to a grant program that would help support employees who are facing financial hardship. Arushi Gupta, a freshman and member of Stanford Students for Workers' Rights (SWR), believes the letter was a good step, but doesn't go far enough.

"While we were happy to see them make that commitment after a month of pushing Stanford to do something, it's been over a week since [the letter came out] and workers haven't heard anything, unions haven't heard anything, subcontractors haven't heard anything," Gupta said.

Gupta said her main frustration is that there doesn't seem to be clear communication between the university, UG2 and SEIU United Service Workers West, the union organization which represents UG2 workers.

Stanford students participated in a May Day Rally in 2019 to demand better pay and benefits for subcontractors on campus. Now, students want subcontractors to get pay and benefits whether or not they're working during the pandemic. (Courtesy of Jessicka Antonio)

"What we really want is for Stanford to really stand by their workers and talk to them directly and work with unions," Gupta said. "You know, treat their service workers the way that they treat students and faculty."

SWR wants three things for contracted service workers:

  • Pay until June 15, like full-time and part-time university employees
  • Hazard pay of 10% for those who continue to work on campus
  • Additional sick leave

Junior Arielle DeVito points out that Stanford has one of the biggest endowments in the country, at nearly $27.7 billion.

"It would be, at this point, very easy for Stanford to provide for its subcontracted employees what it's already providing for its direct hires," DeVito said. "So, while we have sympathy that there are students, there are faculty, there are so many people that need help right now, it to me shows a lack of priorities rather than a lack of ability."

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Stanford spokesman E.J. Miranda said the university cares about the health and safety of its employed and subcontracted service workers.

"We perform routine safety checks to ensure that our custodial contractor is providing its employees with the appropriate level of protective gear depending on the cleaning needs — including gloves, face masks, safety glasses and coveralls," Miranda said.

The university is also providing health care for all its employees under COVID-19, regardless of whether they are working or not.