Charlottesville News & Arts
The UVA Living Wage Campaign got loud during a recent protest at University President Teresa Sullivan’s office. Gathered outside Madison Hall—where a handful of living wage campaigners were arrested in 2006 —students, community members and faculty demanded that the UVA administration pay its workers $11.44 an hour, the same wage paid to City of Charlottesville employees. According to UVA, in November, the University paid 61 employees the entry-level rate of $10.14 an hour, and a total of 286 employees less than $11.44 an hour.
During the past year, campaign members met with Sullivan and other University administrators to discuss proposals that, the group argues, “are simple to implement and would not cost the University any money.” In response, Sullivan issued a public statement, in which she addressed their requests and stated her commitment to “improving the salaries of our lowest-paid employees.”
“I hope to be able to do so in concrete terms when I present my first budget to the Board of Visitors in June,” said Sullivan in her statement. That improvement starts July 1, when the University will increase the minimum wage to $10.65, a 5 percent boost over the current $10.14 wage.
However, according to the budget approved by both the General Assembly and Governor Bob McDonnell, all state employees will contribute 5 percent of their salaries to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) effective June 25. And a 5 percent cut from $10.65 lowers the hourly wage to $10.11—which means that minimum wage employees would potentially make 3 cents less per hour.
Carol Wood, UVA spokesperson, told C-VILLE that the decision to increase the UVA minimum hiring rate was not related to the VRS. Rather, Wood says it was a decision made by the University for its employees’ benefits. In addition to possible salary increases during the next budget cycle, President Sullivan has expanded the pool of recipients for a $300 subsidy given to employees who earn less than $40,000, to help offset the VRS contribution. The subsidy will be increased to $450 for all employees who earn less than $42,000 a year.
During the protest, M. Rick Turner, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, told the audience that UVA workers called the NAACP to complain about their wages, and are scared to go directly to University officials.
“I am glad to hear that President Sullivan has been willing to meet with you,” said Turner. “In your future meetings and dialogues you may want to remind her she is back in the South now, and that, unfortunately, Jim Crow is still alive and well here.” Turner told protestors that the NAACP would proudly fight alongside them, and added that “a disproportionate number of people at the bottom of the wage scale are the same people whose ancestors helped build this great University.”