Students, faculty and staff convene for worker rights at HPSR panel

School of Medicine

On Feb. 25, more than 100 UCSF students, faculty and staff attended the “Impec Workers Panel: Voices from the Invisible Backbone of Healthcare,” hosted by the Health Professionals for Social Responsibility. 

The panel featured two long-term Impec Group custodians, Irene Su and Jin Chen, along with two UC employees and union members, Agnes Suarez and Patricia Olivarez, who collectively highlighted the struggles and underlying injustice of the minimum-wage salary with no benefits provided to the contracted Impec custodians at UCSF. 

“We have workers at our institution who are not being paid a living wage, and for a health care institution, that should be intolerable,” said guest speaker Howard Pinderhughes, an associate professor of social and behavioral sciences in the School of Nursing. “If we decide to get serious about actually reducing health disparities in the bay area, then one of our first steps would certainly be to take care of the workers in our own community and on our campus.” 

For the last five years, UCSF has been contracting out campus custodial positions to Impec Group, a private company that pays their employees minimum wage and does not provide the benefits guaranteed to UCSF custodians such as health insurance, pension benefits or a protected voice in the workplace through the union. In September 2014, more than 30 of the Impec Group workers united to publicly campaign to demand equal treatment with their UC counterparts and to insourced as UC employees. 

Chen, through an interpreter, spoke about the struggle to live in San Francisco on minimum wage and to support his daughter, a student at UC Davis. He said that despite doing the same work as the UC custodians, Impec workers make less than half in hourly wages. 

Su detailed the laborious work the custodians do to ensure that campus facilities are clean and implored students and community members to support the campaign of the workers to be insourced as UC employees.

They were joined in solidarity by Suarez, a hospital unit service coordinator at UCSF Parnassus, and Olivarez, a 25-year veteran custodian of Campus Life Services who works in the UC Library—both of whom are UC employees and union members. Both spoke passionately and proudly about the work they do to provide top-notch patient care and to provide quality services to students and staff. 

Highlighting the increasing use of low-wage contractors in job classifications on campus and in the hospital in lieu of UC staff, Suarez said, “The Impec workers are leading the way in the fight for dignity and respect. They are taking huge risks to stand up for themselves and their families. Contracting out, however, is a much bigger problem.” 

Pinderhughes concluded the panel by framing the struggle for justice for Impec workers as part and parcel in the effort to develop UCSF as an anchor institution in the larger Bay Area—one that is grounded in reducing health disparities through a commitment to serving our local community and fulfilling the values of social justice.

The panel event was a powerful show of community solidarity with some of the most under-recognized members of UCSF—the workers behind the scenes who are integral to making this university and hospital run. Impec workers made a strong call to action for students and faculty to call upon campus leadership to engage in dialogue and discussion about these critical issues.