April 18, 2013
Dozens of University of Virginia students stormed the Rotunda Thursday afternoon during the Board of Visitors meeting, demanding higher wages for the university's lowest-paid workers.
The Living Wage Campaign has been making these demands for a long time. They have held frequent rallies and even conducted a hunger strike last year to bring attention to the issue. On Thursday, their tactic was just to yell so loudly that the board could not ignore them.
They chanted "UVa living wage!" and "All workers should be paid a living wage!" in the lobby of the Rotunda, just outside the board meeting.
The group is demanding that all university employees make at least $13 an hour. They claim that the university intentionally hires contract workers so they can pay them less.
"Time and time again the administration has really ignored the issue of justice for the lowest-paid workers at the university," said organizer Joseph Williams. "We're here to say enough is enough."
Police initially denied the group access to the meeting, then a few of the members were allowed inside. However, those members were asked to leave the meeting after the resumed shouting.
"It's important to fight," said U.Va. Second-year Devante Cunningham. "The voice of workers needs to be heard. They are under-represented on the board."
The protesters claim that many Ivy League universities, Duke, and the University of California are able to pay all workers a living wage. They say low wages prevent some of U.Va.'s workers from being able to live in the city of Charlottesville.
The university pays a minimum rate of $11.30 an hour to new hires. That is more than four dollars higher than the federal minimum wage. But protesters say that rate does not apply to contracted workers.
University officials say they have increased the minimum hiring rate twice in the past six years, despite a salary freeze for higher-income workers.