Student fast wins workers rights

Six Stanford students ended a seven-day fast June 4 and celebrated victory in their campaign to win better conditions and more respect for university workers. The fasters had been supported by nearly 300 “solidarity fasters” and over 1,700 petition signers.

Student activists announced that Stanford’s president had agreed to work toward a university labor code of conduct, with worker and student representation in a presidential comittee on workplace issues.

“The University must recognize all members of its community as playing an integral part in Stanford’s success,” said Linda Tran, who had been fasting since the hunger strike began on May 28. “Workers have been an invisible part of the community too long.”

The fast, organized by the Stanford Labor Action Coalition, was the culmination of a campaign that had been going on for more than two years.

At issue was the poor treatment of workers by both Stanford University and the companies to which the institution outsources work.

The lowest paid workers make only $7.25 per hour, with no health care. Based on a 40-hour workweek, their annual wage is $15,080. Many of them live in San Jose, where a one-bedroom apartment can cost $15,000 per year.

According to a survey released by Working Partnerships USA and SEIU Local 715, which represents the organized Stanford workers, “Over three-quarters of temporary workers at Stanford receive a wage below the San Jose Living Wage of $10.10, about two-thirds of these workers do not have health care, two-thirds have been working as a temporary worker for half a year or more, and one-half share housing with other families.”

The students on the hunger strike demanded that Stanford create a “code of conduct” which would require the university and its subcontractors to guarantee a living wage and bring about educational opportunities to their employees. The strikers also demanded that workers and students have a voice in developing the policy.

University officials initially refused to meet with the students to discuss their demands, but eventually were forced to negotiate under the weight of public pressure. Since negotiations began, the university gave in to some of the demands, but initially refused to allow workers and students a place in the creation of the code of conduct.

The strike has received a lot of solidarity. Jesse Jackson sent a message of support. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, met with the striking students.

The author can be reached at dmargolis@pww.org