Students Hunger Strike For UVA Living Wage
Charlottesville, VA— After years of dialogue with administration, marches, rallies, petitions, and public resolutions, the Living Wage Campaign of U.Va. began a Hunger Strike on Feb. 18th to urge U.Va to enact a living wage policy. For 14 years, the Living Wage Campaign and its allies have urged U.Va. to pay their employees enough to meet the basic cost of living in Charlottesville. Despite years of pressure, dialogue, and other efforts, no progress has been made. On February 8th, the Campaign submitted a list of demands to the administration along with a supportive faculty petition with over 325 signatures, requesting that the administration explicitly address the Campaign’s demands by Feb. 17th. The University’s most recent response was deceptive, evasive, and totally unsatisfactory (see our reply online). The so-called “wage progress” that U.Va. has touted falls well short of the mark for thousands of employees.
Because all other avenues have failed, the Campaign has committed to a Hunger Strike in order to urge U.Va. to adopt a living wage of $13.00/hr indexed to inflation for all U.Va. employees, including contracted employees. The full demands of the campaign are attached and available online. At least 12 students will maintain their fast until the administration agrees to these demands. The Campaign will picket a public area between the Rotunda and the U.Va. Chapel as long as the strike continues. As well as maintaining a constant public presence, the Campaign will sponsor daily events including a rally and march at 12PM, a sunset vigil at 6PM and teach-in workshops from 7-8:30PM. The full schedule is available online at www.livingwageatuva.org.
U.Va. is a community bound by honor and integrity, but U.Va. has behaved dishonorably for many years by paying below-living wages, forcing employees to accept government assistance and take second jobs. In an anonymous interview with the Campaign, one U.Va. employee told the Campaign, “What good are U.Va.’s values if we don’t live up to them? Hundreds of people here are just scraping by…”
For the last 14 years, students, faculty, employees, and Charlottesville residents have tried to convince U.Va. to live up to its own values. The Campaign has formally engaged the administration in dialogue at least seven times, twice with the President herself. Yet no steps have been made towards instituting a living wage. Notably, U.Va. President Theresa Sullivan’s own research confirms the importance of a living wage. Her most recent publication, a textbook, asserts that “being paid a living wage for one’s work is a necessary condition for self-actualization” (The Social Organization of Work, page 63). The Campaign urges the administration to take heed of President Sullivan’s research.
A diverse range of groups, including students and Charlottesville residents, have publicly supported the Campaign. In 2010, the Charlottesville City Council unanimously adopted a living wage and called upon the University of Virginia to do the same. “We have people going homeless here in the City of Charlottesville… some of them working full time, because of insufficient wages,” said then-Mayor David Norris. In addition, over 325 faculty have signed a petition calling for a living wage at U.Va. The mandate for a living wage at U.Va. is clear. After 14 years of effort by the Campaign, it’s time for the University to step up, keep its promises, and commit to paying all its employees a living wage.