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Stanford Report, June 4, 2003

President's advisory committee on labor policies announced; students end fast

BY BARBARA PALMER

Six students ended a seven-day fast Tuesday night after a student labor coalition and administrators reached agreement on a proposed advisory committee that will develop recommendations for policies affecting employees and others who work at Stanford.

The committee, which will begin work this fall and release its recommendations by Spring 2004, will be co-chaired by Diane Peck, executive director of human resources, and a faculty member appointed by President John Hennessy. It will be made up of representatives including three students, two faculty members, two administrators with "expertise in relevant areas" and three employees, including an employee represented by the bargaining unit. Nominations for students will sought from the ASSU Nominations Commission and from the Faculty Senate for faculty representatives.

The committee's proposed agenda will address points raised by the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC) including policies regarding the use of temporary employees, the existing living wage policy, educational opportunities for employees, the use of subcontracted employees and mechanisms designed to ensure compliance with legal rights of employees to organize and to ensure compliance with university employment policies.

"I think this is a good result," Hennessy said. "The students and university officials have acted in good faith, and I now look forward to the beginning of a positive process to address these issues. I am particularly pleased with the outcome because one of our primary concerns during the last week has been the health and safety of our students. The university will continue to work with the students to see that appropriate medical care is available before they return to their studies and exams."

Students hung a victory banner outside of El Centro, where the fasters had camped out since last Friday. On Wednesday morning, the fasters, SLAC members, supporters and administrators Gordon Earle, vice president for public affairs, and Gene Awakuni, vice provost for student affairs, gathered there to share bread in an emotional "breaking the fast" ceremony. "I feel euphoric," said Anna Mumford, a sophomore and one of the six student fasters.

Since Friday, a delegation of four student negotiators and two student "observers" from SLAC have met for a series of lengthy talks with top administrators, including Hennessy. On Tuesday night, fasters met personally with Hennessy.

The formation of the advisory committee represents "continued commitment on the part of Stanford to provide leadership on workplace issues," including a living wage policy for subcontracted workers and programs including childcare subsidy grants, tuition assistance and financial support for health care of its lowest paid workers, Hennessy said. "Nonetheless, we know there is always room for further improvement, and this committee will review concerns expressed by students, faculty and employees and make recommendations with the goal of making Stanford an even better workplace."

In announcing the committee, Hennessy reiterated the university's request that anyone who believes that the university is not complying with its existing policies on the use of temporary employees -- or any other employment policy -- report the situation to the executive director of human resources.

For several days, students, staff, faculty and members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 715 gathered for daily rallies at the tent encampment where the fasters spent their days under a tarp stretched between the trees, near a makeshift altar where students brought flowers, fruit and candles and pinned up a photograph of César Chávez. On Saturday, about 100 protesters marched to Palo Alto. More than 70 students had signed up for one-day fasts on Tuesday in support of the fasters and more than 1,800 people had signed petitions in support of the action.

Fasters were visited on Sunday by Dolores Huerta of Bakersfield, a co-founder with César Chávez of the United Farm Workers of America and a veteran of hunger campaigns. As their fast continued, water would become hard to swallow, she told the fasters. "What you're doing is big and momentous. You do realize that, don't you?"

"Stanford is the model for the world, because of its prestige," Huerta said. The university should be "at the forefront of workers' rights and health care benefits." On Sunday afternoon, she attended a concert by the Los Angeles-based band Ozomatli at Frost Amphitheater with the fasters and appeared at a noon rally on campus Monday.

Students began their fast following a press conference announcing results of a survey conducted by Working Partnerships USA, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit organization associated with the South Bay Labor Council. According to survey results, 73 percent of all Stanford temporary workers earn below a living wage of $10.10 per hour and more than 68 percent have no health insurance. Two-thirds of Stanford temporary workers surveyed for the report have worked at the university for six months or longer, the survey showed. The survey was not a random sample, since the number of temporary workers at Stanford is unknown, said researcher Louise Auerhahn of Working Partnerships USA.

SEIU members and a student researcher collected data for the survey, and researchers at Working Partnerships USA analyzed the data, said Auerhahn. About 1,200 to 1,300 university employees are represented by SEIU.

"Our concern is that workers are being used for permanent work but don't get the same benefits as the rest of us," Zev Kvitky, president of the Stanford chapter of SEIU Local 715 and an employee at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, said May 28.

Campus resident Rachelle Marshall, who is married to Hubert Marshall, emeritus professor of political science, rode her bicycle to Tuesday's rally after noticing the tents on campus earlier that morning. "I can't tell you how impressed I am" with the students' objective and the way they are conducting the campaign, she said. "We came here in 1953 and this is the most inspirational demonstration that I can remember."

Fasting students marched to President John Hennessy's office Tuesday. They ended their fast later that day after reaching an agreement with administrators on an advisory committee which will develop labor policy recommendations. Photo: L.A. Cicero