There's been a recent dustup between the Board of Supervisors and the city's second largest employer, UCSF, over what the supervisors see as unjust labor practices on the part of the university. The situation, which SFist noted in brief last month, involves about 20 mostly Chinese-speaking custodial workers subcontracted with the school to help clean at the new Mission Bay campus between 2011 and 2015. The workers had their pay cut in early 2014 from $18/hour to minimum wage, $10.74/hour, and they responded by picketing. Soon thereafter they were fired, with the university citing their lack of language skills and other factors however both the Supes and these workers feel that they were retaliated against.
As the Chronicle reports, the Board is calling the university's actions unethical, and Supervisor London Breed has even said, "UCSF, if you want to be a good city partner, then make this wrong right." Jane Kim gave a statement saying, "This is a fight for vulnerable workers throughout our city and country."
The story seems somewhat complicated, however, by the university saying they did nothing illegal, and that this was all the fault of of the subcontractor, Impec, which originally employed and ultimately fired the workers. The university, furthermore, was only temporarily using the subcontractor with the intent of making 33 permanent hires, some of which were chosen from among the contracted employees, though that process did not occur until 2015. The school employs some 944 custodial workers in total.
BUT, that is complicated further by the notion that, as AFSCME union spokesperson Todd Stenhouse puts it, "UCSF is the one who determined that it would meet its full-time, permanent staffing needs with a poverty-wage contractor." Then, subsequently, they were summarily fired for various reasons the university has given in a statement.
"Some individuals did not have a driver’s license, which was required of those who had to travel between the various UCSF campuses," the university said in a written defense to the Public Employment Relations Board. "Others were found not to have the requisite documentation authorizing them to work in the United States. Others did not have the ability to communicate, even rudimentarily, in English."
Furthermore, they said they received 300 applications for those 33 custodial openings, and they did fill some of the openings with former subcontractor janitors.
The Chron points to a brand new study by UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education that shows that more and more janitors are suffering low wages as "the share of California janitors employed by contractors doubled from 1980 to 2014."
It remains to be seen whether calls from City Hall or some UC academics to remedy this situation for the now unemployed immigrant workers will fall on deaf ears. The Public Employment Relations Board will be holding a formal hearing on the matter soon.