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Rally Seeks 'Living wage' of $11.44 and Up For All UVa Workers
The Daily Progress
Ted Strong

October 26, 2010
View the Original Article

Members of the University of Virginia community packed the Newcomb Hall Ballroom on Monday night for a rally in support of a “living wage” for UVa workers.

The rally marked the release of a new, student-created report calling for a living wage for all the university’s workers, including part-timers and contract workers. The report suggests that wage would, at the moment, be $11.44 per hour.

It goes on to say that such a wage would need frequent and regular revisions to keep pace with the cost of living in Charlottesville.

“We assert that every person deserves dignity and respect, and part of basic dignity is a decent wage,” said Greg Casar, a fourth-year student and one of the current living-wage movement’s organizers.

The movement is descended from a long history of agitation for better pay for workers at the university. The current group is hoping a new administration will lead to greater success.

“With the arrival of President Teresa Sullivan in the fall of 2010, students recognized an opportunity to develop a respectful relationship with the new administration and press university leaders to address the concerns of its workers and student body,” the newly released report reads.

Movement leaders are hoping to meet with Sullivan in November to open a dialogue, said Meryl Goldstein, a second-year student who is part of the movement’s core group of students.

She noted that the requested figure, $11.44 per hour, mirrors the standard adopted by Charlottesville’s city government in paying its workers. Members of the movement believe it would be advantageous to students, workers and members of the community for the university to pay such a wage because it would improve the community overall. She said UVa cites a starting wage of $10.14 per hour, but many workers are paid less because they work for contractors who provide key services, such as staffing for dining areas.

A major point from organizers was that the university should make paying a living wage one of the minimum requirements for contracting out employment.

UVa officials have maintained that they do not have the ability to regulate the wages paid by the university’s contractors. UVa has pointed to its repeated wage increases and calls its pay competitive.

John T. Casteen III, UVa’s recently departed president, argued that the living wage protesters need to take their concerns to lawmakers who determine state funding for the university.

Among the speakers at Monday’s event was Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris. Norris noted that the City Council recently passed a resolution urging all Charlottesville employers, specifically including the university, to pay a living wage.

Norris said that opponents of such a change frequently cite economic woes: In good times, a wage hike could wreck a good thing; in bad times, a hike could stymie a recovery.

“Either way the workers get screwed,” he said. “We must make them a higher priority. We can make them a higher priority. There is no bad time for social and economic justice.”

Professor Susan Fraiman announced the creation of a faculty support committee for the movement, and professor Herbert “Tico” Braun told the crowd that, adjusted for inflation, the highest minimum wage in U.S. history came in 1968, when it was the equivalent of $10.10 per hour today.

The current minimum is $7.25 per hour.

Between speakers organizers led the crowd in cheers. One went “One, two, three, four, no one should be working poor. Five, six, seven, eight, UVa living wage.”

The other was: “Hey-hey, ho-ho, unjust wages have got to go.” It was met with scattered titters when it was introduced, but the crowd seemed to embrace it once it got going.