University of Vermont students campaign for a higher living wage, 2006-2008

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The group was loosely tied together in 2005, but the actual action did not begin until 3 April 2006
3 April
2006
to
17 May
2008
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Burlington, Vermont
Location Description: 
University of Vermont
Goals: 
Students demanded that:

The University of Vermont will publicly recognize the importance of paying a living-wage to all workers who labor at or on behalf of the University, whether they are directly employed by the University or by the University's contractors.

The University of Vermont shall adopt a livable-wage policy to ensure all of its employees and contracted employees receive a minimum livable wage equal to the hourly rate of pay determined by the state of Vermont's Joint Fiscal Office for a single person in urban Vermont.

As an institution founded upon the ideals of democracy and inclusion we call on UVM to agree to move to a strictly neutral position in regards to any organizing campaign. It is integral that all members of the University community are allowed to make their own decisions, free from coercion about whether they want a union.

 

Beginning in late 2005, students at the University of Vermont (UVM) were involved in a movement to increase the wages of school employees such that workers could be given a "living wage." Primarily focused on food-service employees contracted by Sodexho, the nonviolent campaign sought out and acquired support from local officials, faculty, and even state legislators. The students believed they needed in intervene in order to secure a wage that was equal to the state standard of a living wage as established by the state legislature.

While the campaign had its roots in 2005, it really took off on 3 April 2006 when member Sam Maron of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) began an online blog that became central to the movement's organization. SLAP members were now able to post events, interact with others, and provide instruction via their blog.

Beginning in spring 2006, the students began by organizing a "dance-in" to present the university president their demands on behalf of the workers. They followed this event with mass meetings, teach-ins, and rallies. As support grew, the campaigners organized the creation of a "tent city" to occupy the green in order to show separation from the president's decisions with respect to the college workers. The tent city lasted three days.

On the third day, students attempted to get a permit to extend the duration of their tent city, but this was denied. Ten public safety officers arrived at the campus green at the direction of Provost John Bramley to ask the students to pack up their tents and leave the campus. Eight students initially refused and were given notices of trespassing, but they soon left the area with no further conflict.

The president, Daniel Fogel, insisted that the wages earned by even the lowest-paid workers were some of the highest and "most progressive" in the country. He refused to increase the wages because he, the school administration, and the University Board of Trustees had all agreed that their wages were fair. While he continually thanked the students for their concern and attention to such important issues, he refused to give into their demands, and kept the wages as they were.

With the campaign being interrupted by summer vacation, SLAP did not gain traction again until the following spring when it began to host weekly meetings to bring the issues to light. In February 2007 SLAP hosted a Vermont Workers Rights panel chaired by Senator Bernie Sanders, who fully supported the movement. He was accompanied by Mayor Bob Kiss, and various state representatives who showed solidarity with the movement.

On campus, students held another Tent City event that was approximately one year after the first. The event lasted three days. Approximately two weeks later, members of SLAP began a hunger strike in which they decided they would not eat until the University implemented a real livable wage policy. Students participating in the strike encouraged others to write letters and emails to President Fogel, imploring him to increases wages of employees of the university to correspond to state standards. The hunger strike ended without an agreement by President Fogel to increase wages to a livable standard. However, SLAP members were encouraged by President Fogel's commitment to "take action ensuring that all UVM workers can meet their basic needs."

Again, the campaign was broken up by summer holiday and did not resume again until the spring semester of 2008. Meetings began again, and on 2 April 2008, five members of SLAP presented their demands to the Board of Trustees accompanied by 1000 signatures. A third tent city was erected on the campus green for three days. In the end, President Fogel did not budge on the issue, and the workers’ wages remained at their current rate.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The movement was inspired by the national group SLAP. (1)

Sources: 
UVM Student Labor Action Project website. Last updated 31 March 2008. Accessed 31 January 2013. <http://www.uvm.edu/~slap/index.html>

Silverman, Matthew. "Protest for Wages." The Vermont Cynic. 3 April 2006. Accessed 31 January 2013 <http://www.vermontcynic.com/2.11606/protest-for-wages-1.1611921#.UQr5mEp2O0w>

Student Labor Action Project. "University of Vermont Students' Demands Letter." Living Wage Action Coalition. Accessed 31 January 2013. <http://www.livingwageaction.org/resources_policies_uvmdemands.htm>

UVM Student Labor Action Project Blog. Last updated 24 February 2008. Accessed 31 January 2013. <http://uvmslap.wordpress.com/>

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
John Pontillo, 31/01/2013