Widgets Magazine

Custodians at Stanford Hospital express grievances with managers

In an auditorium in the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge at Stanford Hospital, 13 custodians from the Stanford School of Medicine and Stanford Hospital and Clinics sit in a semicircle to talk. Some of them are new employees, hired just weeks ago. Others have been working at Stanford for 21, 27 or even 37 years. Whether they’re veterans or rookies, however, they all agree: There’s never been a worse time to be a custodian at the hospital.

Their complaints are varied. Managerial abuses, increased workload and a hostile work environment top a long list of grievances. But regardless of the specific issue, they all focus on a particular set of managers: those who don’t work for Stanford.

After Stanford hired the outside contractor Sodexo to manage their custodians in at least four buildings in the School of Medicine in 2007, those custodians say the jobs they had enjoyed for decades took a drastic turn for the worse.

Workloads increased in 2008 due to a rough economy, and they increased again when the custodians’ contract was renegotiated in 2011. When several custodians brought up that a doubled workload may merit a pay increase, they were shut down.

“They told us, ‘You guys are making too much money here,’” said one custodian with more than 20 years of experience at Stanford, who makes $23,000 a year. “They said, ‘We need to give you more work to be even with other companies. We’re going to give you more work.’”

In addition to workload increases, several custodians detailed specific instances when they felt their Sodexo managers mistreated them.

In one instance, a custodian requested two days of grievance time after his mother passed away. After two days passed, he asked for another two days to take care of burial preparations, having encountered struggles in locating a priest to conduct the burial ceremony.

His second request was denied, leading the custodian to go over the head of his Sodexo manager and give a death certificate to Stanford Hospital’s human resources department. This angered the Sodexo manager, who—according to the custodian—told him he was going to “investigate” him and his mother.

“There are no feelings,” he said. “They don’t care.”

A different custodian told a story about his mother, who was going into surgery at Stanford Hospital. He requested the day off five days before the surgery, but it wasn’t until the day before the surgery that a Sodexo manager declined the request.

“He said, ‘The doctor is going to take care of your mom, not you,’” the custodian remembered.

Early next morning, he went to human resources, where he was told the only way to get the day off was to get a note from the operating surgeon. Even after this, his Sodexo manager asked him to bring in all the medical records for his mother, from when she first entered the hospital.

Other custodians spoke about harassment at their jobs, especially while they eat lunch and are on their breaks. This practice only started after Sodexo took over managing operations.

“[Before Sodexo], if you do your area and you are responsible, nobody say nothing to you,” said one custodian. “Nobody bothers you. Nobody was looking to give you more work.”

One custodian said he delivered a signed letter to the president of Stanford Hospital & Clinics, listing many of these same grievances with Sodexo. The next day, Sodexo managers called the custodians into a meeting, five at a time.

“They said, ‘If you are happy working with Stanford, sign here,’” said a custodian who was in one of the meetings. “We didn’t know what we were signing.”

According to the custodians, no one from Stanford was in that meeting. Indeed, the custodians repeated throughout interviews that they enjoyed working for Stanford—it was the outside contractor Stanford had hired that bothered them.

“We are happy working for Stanford, but not the Sodexo people,” said the same custodian.

In addition to full-time custodians, several part-time custodians, who often work the same amount with half the benefits, also clean the Stanford Hospital.

“We are scheduled to work 40 hours a week, even though we are part time,” said one part-time worker. “We are OK with the job, but we are not OK because we don’t have the same benefits. We get half of the PTO [paid time off], half of the vacation…Healthcare is the same, but we don’t get weekends off. Full-time people get every other weekend [off].”


Many of the claims quoted in this article can be verified through hospital records, copies of Stanford Hospital’s human resources policy and interviews with Stanford Hospital administrators and Sodexo managers. A March 5 email to Stanford Hospital spokesman James Larkin requested interviews with hospital administrators, detailing many of the issues. Larkin replied on March 11, however, that he was “not sure that we will be able to accommodate your interview requests.”


About Brendan O'Byrne

Brendan is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously he was the executive editor, the deputy editor, a news desk editor and a writer for the news section. He's a history major originally from New Orleans.
  • james

    You can always find anecdotal examples of people not satisfied with their job. As usual the Daily gives only one side of the story. Unsupported accusations against Sodexo are written about without any response from Sodexo.

    Brendan, you give a vague disclaimer that your story is supported by something like “human resources policy”, but you give no real evidence to support any of the complaints.

    You have to do better in areas of investigation and documentation or articles like this should be posted under Editorial Opinion.

  • Rick Martinez

    I cannot tell you how much I respect the quality of writing and especially the “content” of the Stanford Daily. The articles on “The Struggle Continues,” “The Issues of Wealthy and Poor Students in Conversation,” and now this investigative report on custodians at Stanford Hospital–makes the difference between being merely graduated versus being truly educated.

    Some years ago at a university-affiliated hospital here in Los Angeles, we had a similar issue with respiratory therapists and radiologic technologists: They were dissatisfied with the designation of “para-professionals.” The issue was “training” vs education, even though both kinds of professionals worked in critical care areas and were respected contributors to patient care.

    At about the same time, a newly appointed hospital administrator launched a Patient/Staff Fulfillment Program to “end” patient errors and increase patient satisfaction, and simultaneously enhance staff fulfillment. He brought in Dr. Peter Drucker for one week. His first order of business was not to focus on outcomes per se, rather to fulfill staff expectations–among them was to call respiratory therapists and radiologic technologists “professionals,” and to include them in all important stirring committee meetings. By serving the GOAL of the organization, he served the organization.

    Custodians? Are custodians essential healthcare members as RT’s, nurses, even docs? Heck, they are
    hired for a reason. And they are crying-out for a reason. Apparently they need an ombudsman help…our
    help–to at least listen to their pleas. Yes, we should remain objective and hear the other side of the story.
    Then, if need be, we can act in accord to what’s best to serve the GOAL of the organization.

  • Patricia

    Hello Brendon,
    I would just like to clarify the naing convention used in the article.
    Hospital and other healthcare cleaning professionals should never be referred to as custodians, janitors or housekeepers. Healthcare cleaning is a specialized position and lives depend on them doing it according to evidence based science. Custodians and janitors clean sports arenas, schools and commercial buildings. Housekeepers clean homes, hotels and resorts. The aforementioned cleaning professionals are cleaning for health. Healthcare cleaning professionals clean to save lives and patient satisfaction plays a huge role in reimbursement to hospitals.
    Just saying…
    thank you!

  • a reader

    Good article, and I’m glad The Daily is reporting on this issue.

  • who are you?

    You’ve posted these harsh, unsympathetic responses on EVERY article regarding labor issues. What is your problem? Who are you, Milton Friedman? Also this is a documented case of systematic abuse i.e. this is not the only article about this, just an article about one particular meeting, so yes it’s “anecdotal evidence” but not the only piece of evidence”. This isn’t just a bunch of people whining, as much as you’d like to view it that way.
    For more evidence on this issue, take a look at SLAC’s petition. The Daily has been doing great investigative journalism; sorry if the evidence it presents doesn’t always agree with your neoconservative views

  • james

    You don’t seem to have much tolerance for diversity of thought. Are you a liberal?

    And, yes this is an article about people complaining. I have no idea whether their complaints are true or not from this article.

    If Brendan wrote an article claiming you beat your wife, wouldn’t you feel it should include your side of the story. Where is Sodexo’s side of the story on this? Unlike you I haven’t made up my mind about the accusations until I see both sides of the story and some supporting facts. I get the feeling you have no use for facts.

  • grow up!

    Funny how you claim to represent diversity of thought and then try to bash me as a “liberal” as if my political views were relevant at all here. (FYI I’m not)…

    There are other articles that substantiate the quoted claims made here. SLAC also has plenty of info. This article purports to cover a worker meeting, NOTHING MORE. If Sodexo chooses to respond later, I’m sure it will also be reported. Stop accusing journalists of bias when they report things you don’t like; you sound like an entitled brat who watches too much Fox news.

  • can you read?

    From the bottom of this very article:
    “Many of the claims quoted in this article can be verified through hospital records, copies of Stanford Hospital’s human resources policy and interviews with Stanford Hospital administrators and Sodexo managers. A March 5 email to Stanford Hospital spokesman James Larkin requested interviews with hospital administrators, detailing many of the issues. Larkin replied on March 11, however, that he was “not sure that we will be able to accommodate your interview requests.””

  • Not a preferred vendor

    They prefer to do business with outside vendors due to the enormous kickbacks they get from them. You should investigate the General Services Department.