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Virginia: University Protest Targets Salaries
The Cavalier Daily
Chelsea Jack

April 21, 2011
View the Original Article

Living Wage Campaign culminates Day of Action on Madison Hall, Rotunda steps

Gathered in front of Madison Hall, a group of students, faculty and Charlottesville community members banded together yesterday afternoon in the culminating protest for the Day of Action organized by The Living Wage Campaign at the University. Organizers for the campaign held the Day of Action to indicate their dissatisfaction with administrative responses, which they believe have been continuous refusals of their proposals.

In January of this year, the campaign sent three proposals to President Teresa A. Sullivan outlining steps that could be taken to achieve a living wage, “which would not cost the University a single dollar to implement,” the campaign insisted on its website. These proposals included requests for statements on behalf of University administration clarifying rights to freedom of speech for workers, specifically relating to labor issues. Another proposal requested a statement committing administrators to prioritize wages for the University’s lowest-paid employees once the wage-freeze ends. The campaign also called for the University to ask existing contractors for wage disclosure and benefit standards.

In an email, University spokesperson Carol Wood said University representatives have met with students involved with The Living Wage Campaign a number of times this year. Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer, met with the campaign four times, and Patricia Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer, attended three of those meetings. Sullivan joined the Tuesday meeting.

Sullivan issued a statement during this conference regarding her commitment to improving the salaries of the University’s lowest-paid employees.

“The Living Wage Coalition has presented to me three proposals which, in their opinion, do not cost money and would represent progress,” Sullivan said. “I appreciate the collaborative spirit in which these proposals were presented. I prefer, however, to seek progress on salary issues through the budget process — that is, with actual dollars — if it be possible to do so.”

Campaign organizer Hunter Link said the campaign sought to use the Day of Action and the Madison Hall protest to show that the organization wants this commitment to go further.

“[Our goal] is to not only remind the University that this is an issue that is still with us, especially going into the summer, but also to say that this is an issue that will stay in peoples’ minds.”

Lined up on University Avenue in front of Madison Hall yesterday afternoon, a large group of campaign supporters held up signs that read: “U.Va. Take Responsibility” and “The purpose of U.Va. is to sustain the spirit of free inquiry.”

Cheering and chanting, the group followed student-leaders up the steps leading to Madison Hall to hear the outcome of the campaign’s meeting with Sullivan that took place the previous day.

Standing on the steps of Madison Hall, Link spoke on behalf of the campaign. He began by addressing the specific measures Sullivan outlined in her commitment to improving the wages of the lowest-paid.

One measure of Sullivan’s commitment includes increasing the minimum hiring rate from $10.14 to $10.65, a 5 percent increase, effective July 1.

Link claimed Sullivan failed to mention that the University mandates employees to pay 5 percent of their salaries into a University pension system, and therefore the campaign felt this raise only promised “another year of wage stagnation.”

Link went on to express dissatisfaction with several of the president’s responses to the campaign’s three main proposals. Concerning its request for wage-disclosure with contractors, Link characterized Sullivan’s call for “further discussion” as inadequate and vague. In regard to the wages of contracted workers, Link asked the crowd of supporters, “What is the University trying to hide?”

After expressing further displeasure with Sullivan’s responses to the campaign’s two additional proposals, Link and fellow organizers led supporters across University Avenue toward the steps of the Rotunda to hear campaign endorsements from student groups and Charlottesville organizations, including the Albemarle-Charlottesville Branch of the NAACP, the University’s Anthropology Society, the University Democrats and the Black Student Alliance.

M. Rick Turner, president of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Branch of the NAACP, spoke to the group of campaign supporters.

“We are a protest organization that stands up for civil rights,” Turner said, “and the right for workers to organize and to earn a living wage [concerns] civil rights … The people at the bottom of the wage scale are the same people that helped to build this great university.”

In addition to holding the Day of Action and the Madison Hall protest, the campaign responded to Sullivan’s Tuesday statement with an open letter reiterating its belief that her “stated commitment to the lowest-paid employees fails to address the crucial issues,” such as the campaign’s requests concerning direct employees and contract employees.

“The students have been listened to and, in fact, a number of things have resulted from the conversations,” Wood said. “I think that President Sullivan and VP Carkeek and VP Lampkin were surprised that the students were not pleased with the president’s statement yesterday in which she clearly stated, ‘I am committed to improving the salaries of our lowest-paid employees, and I hope to be able to do so in concrete terms when I present my first budget to the Board of Visitors in June, 2011.’”

Despite the differences between the two camps, Sullivan commended the spirit behind the student activism.

“Sullivan actually wished the students well with their rally today and saw it as an example of deep commitment on the part of the coalition, as well as an example of student activism in action,” Wood said.

Overall, University administrators expressed disappointment with the reaction from the campaign following the meeting and Sullivan’s statement.

“The students said they were hoping to get such a statement, yet they apparently have completely dismissed it today,” Wood said.