Petition regarding Stanford’s new janitorial services subcontractor

If you checked your inbox today, you probably saw an email asking you to sign a petition demanding that the new Stanford janitorial services subcontractor, UNICCO, “continue the employment of all the janitors currently employed by ABM with the same seniority, wages, and benefits that they held under ABM.” (Full petition after the jump.) As I write this, the petition signature list has 1060 names.

According to the petition, the new subcontractor (UNICCO) has notified about 70 workers that they may be fired. Some of those are eligible to re-apply, but they would lose seniority and begin at the bottom of the wage scale. The petition implies that this is contrary to social justice and violates the collective bargaining agreement of SEIU Local 1877, the union that represents these workers. These are two very different assertions that I address below the jump.

Regarding the violation of the agreement, I’ve been unable to find a current electronic version of the agreement (and haven’t heard back from the union yet), but I did find the agreeement in force from 2003-2008. I located a classmate on campus who has a paper copy of the 2008-2012 one, though, and I will post more once I have reviewed it.

As for the social justice issue, it’s not clear to me that any consistent conception of “social justice” is served by the actions advocated by this petition. If competing companies are forced to match the cost structure of the entrenched subcontractor, then they can’t hope to compete. The result of such an anti-competitive environment is that power in the marketplace would be concentrated in a few large companies, who would have massively greater bargaining power over workers than many smaller companies in a competitive marketplace. Also, by restricting layoffs and instituting a wage floor, the petition benefits those select few workers who have these relatively desirable Stanford jobs, at the expense of other people in worse situations who would be eager to take these jobs. Is it “socially just” to privilege arbitrary groups of people over other people in worse conditions?

It’s totally understandable that Stanford students are sympathetic to the particular people who work very hard to maintain our campus. I certainly am. But I don’t believe the “social justice” argument is consistent. Can anybody formulate it in a more convincing way?

One particular concern I’ve heard is that some of the ABM workers are undocumented, and their jobs would be in jeopardy if UNICCO proceeds with firing and then rehiring workers so that they start at the bottom of the wage scale. The fear is that UNICCO couldn’t legally rehire them, and they’d be out of a job. I don’t follow the reasoning behind this fear. It seems to me that the only question that matters is whether UNICCO can continue to employ these undocumented workers. If they can, then all else being equal, they have no incentive to fire and rehire them–quite the opposite, since (regrettably) UNICCO probably has more bargaining power over undocumented workers, who unfortunately have little legal recourse. (I am assuming that UNICCO wouldn’t risk firing and rehiring 70 undocumented workers just to bump them down the wage scale, since that’d attract a lot of attention.) If UNICCO can’t continue to employ these undocumented workers, then this petition would change nothing. So, the concern about the fate of undocumented ABM workers seems irrelevant to this petition. Can somebody help me understand this?

The full text of the petition, available at, reads:

We the undersigned members of the Stanford community have recently become aware of an injustice against workers at Stanford University. As many as 70 workers are at risk of being unjustly fired or losing their seniority and benefits. UNICCO, a staffing agency, won the recent contract bid to replace the previous staffing agency, ABM, beginning December 1st of this year. On November 10th, about half of the 148 janitors working under ABM received letters saying they may not continue working for Stanford under UNICCO. UNICCO has encouraged many of the workers who received this letter to reapply for work, but as new workers, without seniority, and therefore with lower wages and benefits.

This is unacceptable. Workers should retain their employment and the wages and benefits associated with their seniority rights through a subcontracting transition. UNICCO and Stanford are blatantly violating the Northern California Maintenance Contractors Agreement with Service Employees International Union, Local 1877, the union that represents the workers. The agreement states that “the incoming Employer shall recognize the work time and overall employment service of all permanent employees retained at the job location… for all purposes including seniority, sick leave and vacation benefits, so that no employee will lose any such benefits because of the change of Employers.”

We love our current janitors. Many of them have been working at Stanford for 10-15+ years, and we really appreciate all the hard work they do. They are an integral part of the Stanford community and should not be punished because of a transition in subcontractors. We demand that Stanford and UNICCO continue the employment of all the janitors currently employed by ABM with the same seniority, wages, and benefits that they held under ABM.


The Undersigned

Subscribe to the Stanford Review