February 22, 2012
Students at the University of Virginia are taking matters into their own hands--actually their stomachs--to ensure that workers at the school receive a fair living wage.
According to The Indypendent, twelve students from the University of Virginia began a hunger strike on Saturday to encourage a living wage policy for university workers. The Cavalier Daily reported that an increasing number of students have since joined the cause; as have a number of "solidarity fasters" who fasted for a day and attended rallies.
"We are not looking for an empty promise, but for substantive action from the University... and how the goal [of the] living wage can be accomplished," graduate student Dannah Dennis told The Cavalier Daily. "Hunger striking is hard and difficult work. Students and community members are putting their bodies on the line."
Members of the Living Wage Campaign are insistent that University of Virginia employees be given a pay increase from $10.65 to $13 an hour to be able to attain a livable wage, reported WTKR NewsChannel 3. "Living wage" is the minimum wage considered to be sufficient enough for people to cover the costs of basic needs.
The group would also like to see cost of living adjustments enacted on an annual basis, establishment of an oversight board for workers to express grievances, and a commitment to safe working conditions. They have pledged to continue their hunger strike until demands are met.
"The University is not supporting all the members as it's supposed to," said Joseph Williams, a member of the school's football team, and the latest to join the hunger strike, on the Living Wage at UVA website. "We feel, as students and members of the community, we have a responsibility, really an obligation to stand up for those who aren't being represented."
Dr. Greg Gelburd, a physician, has been keeping an eye on the striking students. He said they might be able to continue their strike anywhere from one to two weeks, but warned that there are health risks, according to The Cavalier Daily.
The movement toward living wages at the school are long in the making, noted The Indypendent. In the late 1990s, a movement began at schools insisting that employees--many of whom were students--be given living wages. Living wage movements did succeed on some campuses, but the one at the University of Virginia did not. Thus, the push has long continued.
"We have spent 14 years building up the case for a living wage," said hunger-striking student A.J. Chandra to The Indypendent.
Response from the school has been less than forthcoming. Administration expressed respect for the students' right to strike, but warned students about the improper use of campus space, and about the possible legal, health and academic ramifications for expressing their opinions, reported The Cavalier Daily. Additionally, prior to the start of the hunger strike, school president Teresa Sullivan sent an e-mail to members of the Living Wage Campaign, saying the fiscal resources for the year had already been allocated.
In response, members of the Living Wage Campaign delivered a page from a book she co-authored, "The Social Organization of Work," to her office on the fourth strike day. Flyers also distributed at a noon rally contained a quote from the book: "Being paid a living wage for one's work is a necessary condition for self-actualization... the provision of wages adequate to meet basic needs is a fundamental requirement before a job can be experienced as rewarding and meaningful."
Compiled by Maggie O'Neill
"Campaigners Continue Strike," cavalierdaily.com, February 23, 2012, Grace Hollis
"Fast Enters Fourth day," cavalierdaily.com, February 22, 2012, Abby Meredith and Donald Sensabaugh
"Number of Hunger Strikers up to 17 as the Fast Enters its Fifth day; UVA Football Player Decides to Strike," livingwageatuva.org, February 22, 2012
"UVA Students Protest Employee Pay With Hunger Strike," wtkr.com, February 21, 2012
"Why Students are Hunger Striking in Virginia," indypendent.org, February 20, 2012, David Swanson