How much money does it take to make an honest living?
For the past 14 years, the UVA students and faculty members who make up the Living Wage Campaign (LWC) have argued that it takes more than minimum wage.
While six of the 10 highest-paid state employees in Virginia work at UVA, many staff members at the University are expected to live and support their families on $9 an hour, said Emily Filler, a graduate student and one of the campaign’s organizers.
“I know people who are working full time and can’t make rent,” she said.
UVA students and faculty gathered to demand that school officials agree to institute a living wage of $13 per hour for its employees. Living Wage Campaign members gave officials a deadline of February 17 to respond to their demands.
The LWC members had hoped that new UVA President Teresa Sullivan would provide a more receptive audience than the past regime, but they’re not holding their breath, something they made clear at a rally held last week.
“We want to show them that we’re serious,” Filler said.
Shortly after the noon bells rang over Grounds, Sarajanee Davis, president of the University Black Student Alliance, thanked the 50 or so people who showed up in support of the campaign for their efforts in this “very pertinent issue to the community.”
At the rally, the campaign issued a new set of demands to University administrators. Foremost on the list was an hourly wage of $13 adjusted annually to comply with cost-of-living, in addition to uncompromised benefits, including health insurance. The wage demand represented an increase from earlier requests for $11.44 per hour, which matched the city’s minimum wage structure. LWC members also asked for “safe, just and humane” working conditions guaranteed for all workers and the creation and facilitation of a Living Wage Oversight Board.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies Cindy Hoehler-Fatton was the only faculty member to speak at the rally.
“We cannot aspire to be the caring community that President Sullivan envisions, when we turn a blind eye to the fact that our custodial staff, dining service workers, and some of our hospital employees are not earning enough to cover their basic necessities,” she said. “We faculty cannot do our jobs, and the University as a whole cannot function, without the hard work and dedication of all its employees. And we cannot be a healthy, vital community when some of our fellow full-time employees must take second and third jobs to be able to pay rent, put food on the table, and provide for their children.”
LWC organizers said they would give the administration until February 17 to respond to the request before they moved to “take action to publicize the unjust wages and employment practices currently in place at our University.”
Organizers presented a petition signed by more than 300 UVA faculty members that reminded their leaders that numerous peer institutions have established a living wage and that the City of Charlottesville currently requires all contractors to pay a minimum wage of $11.44 per hour.
A sign at the rally read, “Everyone must bear witness where wrong has been done.” Organizers asked whether the University would finally recognize Thomas Jefferson’s words and take steps to institute a living wage standard.
After the rally, two campaign members marched into Madison Hall to hand deliver their demands and the petition to the president.
“Our work is not done,” said Davis, “but we will accomplish this goal.”