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Virginia: Living Wage Campaign rallies
The Cavalier Daily
Abby Meredith and Anna Perina

November 11, 2011
View the Original Article

Board of Visitors meeting prompts demonstration in support of higher salary for University employees

About 70 students and members of the Charlottesville community gathered yesterday at the University to rally for the creation of a living wage for University staff. Workers and Students United organized a march and a “lay-in” outside of the Harrison Institute and Small Special Collections Library, where the Board of Visitors held its quarterly meeting.

The University’s increase of its minimum hire rate to $10.65 per hour, up from $10.14, went into effect in July.

The Living Wage Campaign defines a living wage for Charlottesville workers based on the estimate of the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank which focuses on the needs of low- and middle-income workers.

According to the organization, the minimum hourly wage needed to live above the poverty line in Charlottesville is about $12 per hour.

“Throughout the last year, President Sullivan has invoked the ‘caring community’ of U.Va., yet we maintain that this must also include the employees of our University,” the campaign wrote in an open letter last week to Sullivan, Michael Strine, executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Vice-Rector Mark Kington. “Where is the honor and integrity upon which our University is founded? Why don’t we pay our employees a living wage?”

The protest included about 70 students and faculty members from 32 various groups, including the Workers and Student United, the Latino Student Alliance, the Black Student Alliance, University NAACP and the Human Rights Film Festival.

During the “lay-in,” protesters laid on the ground as a symbolic act.

“We believe [the ‘lay-in’] is a dramatization of the fact that our administration and Board of Visitors have repeatedly refused to stand up for workers in budget decisions,” said Hunter Link, a member of the Living Wage Campaign.

Members of the campaign strive to highlight the key role the University plays in the Charlottesville economy.

“Despite the levels of employment, many still live below the poverty line,” Link said. “U.Va. is the largest employer in Charlottesville, and a lot of people are living in poverty. We have a huge impact on the local economy.”

Strine acknowledged the campaign’s concern but also noted the budgetary limitation imposed on the University by the state.

“The University of Virginia recognizes that people are our biggest investment in delivering on our mission of excellence in teaching, discovery, patient care, and service to communities,” Strine said in an email. “State salary freezes for four consecutive years have had a disproportionate impact on our lowest-paid employees.”

Strine said the University has shown its commitment to improving the salaries of lowest-paid employees by giving these increases priority in 2011-12.

“We [will] address these issues in the appropriate context with other competing demands for resources to support teaching, discovery and service,” he said.