University of Virginia students raise minimum wage for campus workers, 2006

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Although the movement for fair living wages had existed for quite some time, this specific branch of the movement took form in April of 2006.
March
2006
to
April
2006
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Charlottesville, Virginia
Location Description: 
University of Virginia
Goals: 
To get the University of Virginia to raise its minimum wages to $10.27 an hour and to uphold its contractors to pay the same starting wage.
 

In 2006, University of Virginia students launched an intensive campaign to raise minimum wages at their institution. Discontented with the minimum $9.37 an hour, these students urged the school’s administration to provide fairer wages, wages that they determined to start at $10.27 an hour.

Since 1998, University of Virginia students had been organizing and fighting for workers’ rights and wage raises. This particular campaign, though, was part of a larger movement called the Living Wage Campaign. Throughout the early 2000s, Living Wage Campaigns took form at college campuses across the United States as students mobilized to demand higher entry-level wages at their respective institutions.

The students at the University of Virginia joined this movement in the spring of 2006 and pressured the administration to raise wages. Their demands were as follows: given the current starting wage at the university, $9.37 an hour, the institution should raise its wages to $10.27 an hour. The students decided upon this number through the use of a basic needs budget calculator, developed by the Economic Policy Institute. Students fighting for a living wage proposed that this new wage would minimally cover the costs necessary to raise a family and pay basic monthly necessities like housing, food, and health care in Charlottesville, Virginia. In addition, students demanded that the university ensure that contractors uphold these wages as well. The reason for this was that many of the adults working at the university were not university employees, but rather, contracted workers. In expecting contractors to pay the same minimum wage, the administration could ensure that every person working at the university received a fair living wage.

According to the university's administration, primarily President John T. Casteen III, settling issues regarding wages was not a simple task. Firstly, he noted, the University of Virginia’s minimum wage was much higher than the federal minimum wage ($5.15 an hour). Moreover, the university not only had one of the highest minimum hiring rates in the region, but also, had high benefits like health care. And, finally, in regards to the demands to extend these expectations to private contractors, Casteen questioned the legality of such action. The university’s administration was reluctant to raise the wages up to the high asking price of the students, for fear of economic strain and legal rights.

It was the administration’s denial that provoked students into protesting. For the first few weeks of April, students rallied against the school. Members of the campaign attempted to convince the administration to raise the minimum wage. The failure of these negotiations led the students to take direct action against the administration.

On 12 April 2006, seventeen students with the Living Wage campaign walked into Madison Hall on the campus. There, armed with sleeping bags, food supplies, and laptops, these students staged a sit-in. They occupied the lobby of the building, refusing to leave until the administration saw to their demands for raising wages. According to these students, they had exhausted all other attempts of dialogue, and a sit-in was the only way to create change.

At the same time that this was going on, students held rallies and a 24-hour vigil outside of the building. They also pitched more than half a dozen tents on the lawn outside of the hall. Many had gathered in support of the students inside.

It was on the first day of the sit-in that university professor Wende Marshall was arrested for trespassing Madison Hall. Professor Marshall had attempted to enter the building, but was denied entrance. She went, instead, to the side entrance so that she could check up on the students. The police then arrested her. This was one of many attempts made by the administration to halt the protests. They also cut off amenities such as wireless Internet access.

Throughout these four days, students spoke with the university’s president to discuss their demands. Then, on 14 April, Casteen met with students with a proposal to work with them and discuss the wages at the school. This offer, though, was contingent on the students agreeing to vacate Madison Hall and stop disrupting university business. Students denied Casteen’s proposal.

On 15 April, Casteen notified protesters that if they did not leave the premises they would be arrested for trespassing. When the students failed to leave, all seventeen of them were arrested and taken to jail.

Despite these arrests, the movement continued on. The seventeen students became a symbol for the campaign, and were referred to as “The 17.” Protests continued, drawing in dozens and then hundreds of sympathizers. Students even staged a symbolic sit-in, taking turns sitting in 17 circles chalked onto the sidewalk around Madison Hall. The arrests incited the campus and strengthened the support for the students campaigning.

On 18 April, students held another rally. Later, on 20 April, Casteen sent a letter to the University of Virginia’s community detailing what had occurred over the weekend at Madison Hall. In response, faculty sent a letter back to Casteen in support of living wages; 226 faculty members signed this letter.

The following day, 21 April, protesters attended Casteen’s State of the University address. Fifty of these protesters wore shirts and signs as part of the Living Wage Campaign. Also, on this day, teachers and students staged a teach-in discussing the importance of living wages.

Following these April actions, Casteen announced his desire to continue working with the Living Wage Campaign to see what could be done. The protests largely ended and the Living Wage Campaign students chose, instead, to begin a dialogue with the school. On 25 November that year, the university raised its minimum wage to $9.75 an hour. The students of the Living Wage campaign at the University of Virginia had succeeded in provoking a change in the wages.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The University of Virginia students were influenced by the Living Wage Campaign (nation-wide) (1)

Sources: 
"Living wage" debate, Inside UVA Online, http://www.virginia.edu/insideuva/2006/08/living_wage.html

"Arrests Don't End Wage Protests," Jamie Stockwell, The Washington Post, April 17, 2006.

"Despite Arrests, U-Va. Students Devoted to Bettering Workers," Carol Morello and Susan Kinzie, The Washington Post, April 19, 2006.

Additional Notes: 
This movement for higher wages continues today. This particular campaign lasted during 2006, and as the students were successful in gaining a wage raise, it is viewed as complete.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Aileen Eisenberg, 03/02/2013