Frequently Asked Questions about a living wage at the University of Virginia

What is a living wage?

A living wage reflects the basic needs of an average family: a family of four with two full-time working adults and two dependent children. The calculations account for a family’s basic expenses, including housing, food, transportation, health care, childcare, taxes, and other necessities, and vary by location.

What is the living wage for U.Va. employees?

The Living Wage Campaign calls for all U.Va. employees, direct or contract, to be paid a living wage of $13.00 per hour plus benefits. Our full demands are available here on our website.

Is it really so expensive to live in Charlottesville?

The cost of living in Charlottesville is nearly 10 percent higher than the national average, and housing costs are 20% higher according to the ACCRA Cost of Living Index 2011 Report.

Is it really so bad for workers now?

Yes. More than a thousand employees of the University of Virginia, both direct and contract, do not earn enough money to meet their most basic daily needs. The University’s minimum entry-level wage, as of October 2010, is $10.65/hr. At this rate, a dual income family of four will fall $9776 short of meeting its basic needs annually. Contract workers, however, may be paid as little as the federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour.

How is a living wage calculated?

The Living Wage Campaign bases its demands primarily on statistics from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, DC that calculates a living wage for a given location using minimum costs for housing, food, transportation, and other information from a variety of governmental and non-governmental sources. It’s important to note that the calculations used by the EPI are indeed basic; their figures don’t include any money for “extras” such as money for savings or emergencies.

What about benefits?

The Living Wage Campaign applauds U.Va. for the benefits, including health care, that it provides its direct employees. However, most of the additional fringe benefits that the University offers do not help meet workers’ basic needs; they do not help pay for rent, food, and heating, for example. And, of course, the hundreds of contract employees working at the University may receive no University benefits at all. For a family to make ends meet in Charlottesville, workers must be paid a cash wage of at least  $13/hr, with benefits accruing on top of this.

Can the University afford to pay a living wage?

Yes, it can! For the University to pay all direct employees a wage of $13 an hour the Budget Office would have to reallocate between 4.2 to 5.8 million dollars, which is 0.18%-0.24%, less than a quarter of a percent of U.Va.’s $2.487 billion annual budget.

Does a living wage policy cause unemployment?

No. Economists have conducted dozens of studies–including the Card-Krueger experiment, the Dube-Lester-Reich study, and another comprehensive study by the Center for American Progress–all showing that minimum wage increases and living wage ordinances do NOT significantly increase unemployment. Furthermore, the Campaign’s demands stipulate that U.Va. must pay a living wage without offsetting costs through understaffing.

Are there any other universities that pay a living wage?

Yes. In fact, 22 out of the top 25 universities in the United States (as ranked by U.S. News and World Report 2011) have a living wage including all eight Ivy League schools, M.I.T., and the University of California at Berkeley.

Shouldn’t U.Va. workers be grateful to have jobs at all in this economy?

The economy is bad right now, which only highlights the urgency of paying people fair wages–honest pay for honest work–that will enable them to support themselves and their families. The choice between no work and unfair work is no choice at all. This is the 21st century; it’s time to ensure that every job is sustaining and dignified.

Why a hunger strike? Why now?

The Living Wage Campaign has a proud history, during which it has organized teach-ins, marches, rallies, peaceful protests, and a 2005 sit-in, among other forms of demonstration against U.Va.’s unfair wages. Members of the Campaign have met with administrators on multiple occasions in order to establish dialogue regarding the lowest-paid workers, yet U.Va. continues to refuse to prioritize worker compensation, instead offering only excuses or half measures. Recently, students and community members have held multiple rallies, while faculty members petitioned the administration to address our grievances. But the administration continues to ignore the plight of low-paid workers, and it has left the Campaign with no other choice. This hunger strike was planned to coincide with the Board of Visitors meeting, the group responsible for U.Va.’s budget.

So what can I do?

There’s no shortage of ways to help out. A good place to start is the “Get Involved” section of our website. You’re also welcome to come see us – we’ll be maintaining a public presence between the Rotunda and the UVA Chapel for the duration of the strike. Come by anytime between 10 am and 6 pm;  there will always be students willing to talk with you in person!

4 Responses to FAQ

  1. Elizabeth says:

    What reasons have U.Va. Economic Professors given for not signing the faculty petition?

  2. […] is part of a hunger strike being undertaken by a group of UVA students to raise awareness for the Living Wage Campaign, which seeks to increase university employee pay to $13 an hour with […]

  3. Ethan says:

    What happens to University employees that make only a little bit over the proposed living wage?

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m not with the campaign, just one of the low paid workers. I would guess they would get nothing at all. When they upped the starting wage to $10.65 in Oct 10′ I was making $10.58 so I got a 7 cents raise to bring me to the minimum. Even though I had been brought in and given a small bit of credit/wage for my years experience and gained a bit more while being here I was back to making the same as any slob off the street with no experience.


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