Category Archives: Worker Testimony
Thomas* is a direct employee of U.Va. who says that many of his co-workers are in dire situations. “I think we should have a food drive for U.VA. employees. I think that students should collect school supplies, and food and clothing to distribute to employees… there are people who would take that. There are people who need that. There are people who work full-time at U.Va. and go to the food bank to get food. I know a lot of people in the department where I work who would be happy to take that. I know guys making $20,000 a year trying to raise kids who just aren’t making it.” While U.Va. touts ‘wage progress,’ Thomas points out the basic issue that confronts a lot of employees. “The problem is that so many workers get locked into the low wage that stays there… you end up losing ground financially because of inflation and such… and so a lot of people are making less money then they were making years ago.”
Why aren’t more employees speaking out? Thomas told the Campaign: “U.Va. doesn’t do a good job of tolerating dissent… Do I feel safe speaking up? To you, as anonymous person, I do… but to speak publicly would mean not doing what I do anymore. I would be singled out and dealt with… We can expect to be retaliated against without question. There is no fallback position for a lot of people. The University is it for a lot of people.” Throughout the interview, Thomas repeatedly emphasized his desire to remain anonymous. He goes on: “There is no collective bargaining, there’s no worker’s voice and anyone who makes a lot of noise sees the door… it’s the little guy against the giant and the University has all the good cards and they play them. They weed out people that are a problem.”
In his time at U.Va., Thomas has seen U.Va. contract out more and more to private employers. He tells the Campaign that “it absolves the University of responsibility for anything. It is a great back-door way to be doing everything that used to be done by salaried people with healthcare on the cheap. This is a move that I have seen in the years that I have been at U.Va. It is an unconscionable thing. I don’t understand how U.Va. can defend that position… another thing you see is more and more temporary workers who remain temporary workers without benefits of any kind for years and years.”
Thomas notes the huge divide between U.Va. values and its behavior. “Aren’t we supposed to be the shining beacon on the hill. Aren’t we supposed to be better here? That is one of the reasons that I thought it would be good to work here… the ‘caring community,’ President Sullivan talks a lot about the caring community… let’s close that gulf between principle and practice. When you have these lofty goals, but you don’t live them, it doesn’t do anybody any good. What good are U.Va.’s values if we don’t live up to them? Hundreds of hundreds people are just scraping by.”
Chrissy* has been working at the University for less than ten years – but the whole time has been stressful. She explained to the campaign “they don’t know how to treat you right.” Most of her co-workers are stressed out, continuously discussing the amount of pay. People who live within the Charlottesville area and outside of the Charlottesville area discuss the same struggles. People, man or woman, black or white are all stressed out for the same reason. Why? Because the pay is horrible. The wage should be better, as the University has the ability seen in the size of it and its other projects and priorities.
But Chrissy lives paycheck to pay check like many of her employees and gets the lowest wage. It’s difficult to find other jobs, especially during this harsh economy and especially while supporting a family. But while supporting her family her children has to help her pay her bills – otherwise she would not be able to do it. There are opportunities for 2-3 hours of overtime, but it’s not worth it because the commute is so long and the pay isn’t enough of an incentive. Why doesn’t Chrissy speak out? After the last academic year, the campaign explains to Chrissy that the University released a “Freedom of Speech” statement protecting University workers rights to speak out. University administrators also told the Campaign that there would be a concerted effort to publicize this “Freedom of Speech” statement to employees. To Chrissy knowledge, there has been no effort by the University to publicize worker’s rights to speak out. Also when discussing with Chrissy about the “pay hike” from last summer, Chrissy explained that many of the people who have been working here longest did not receive the hike because of a loophole in the payment system