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Musicians support Living Wage fight

A musical voice is being added to the Labor Action Group's campaign to raise the hourly wage of classified University employees to $8.

Blues singer Corey Harris, performer John McCutcheon and the Sanctuary Choir from Mt. Zion Baptist Church will perform "Living Wage Live" tonight at 8 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall.

The concert will raise money for the campaign, which aims to raise the wages for about 500 of the University's lowest paid workers. Naturally, tickets are selling for $8, or "your hourly wage."

Assoc. English Prof. Susan Fraiman explained that the purpose of the campaign is to publicize the fact that many University staff members are not making a living wage - one fit for a family of four to live above the federally recognized poverty line.

"As a result, people who are working full time are forced to work two or three jobs," Fraiman said. "A wage should be a living wage and a wage should be a wage that people can actually live on."

Although all workers make more than the federal minimum wage, $5.15 an hour, she said that fact is misleading.

"If minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be over $5.15 by now," she added.

Assoc. English Prof. Eric Lott said the musicians were chosen for their connections to the cause.

Lott said McCutcheon is known as being politically active.

"John McCutcheon has ties to political groups and knows a lot of protest songs and union songs from the past and is really active politically," he said. "He's a Grammy winner as well as a really self-conscious political singer."

He added that Harris was picked because he is a blues singer.

"Blues as a musical form has become more of a music for white spectators, but at its root it's grown out of the post-plantation scene of reconstruction," Lott said. "So it just made sense to ask him as well since the majority of the lowest wage workers at U.Va. are African-Americans."

He added the Sanctuary Choir from Mt. Zion Baptist Church also will be of great help.

Fraiman said although the purposes of both the concert and the campaign are to raise wages, it is only a start.

"We're focusing on the issue of wages but what we want is for staff at U.Va. to have a voice," she said.

She added that the campaign doesn't end with University employees.

"When we say we want $8 an hour, we mean that for people who contract for U.Va." as well, Fraiman said. "They could contract out to companies that pay living wage."

She said even though the campaign has held rallies and demonstrations, they have never sponsored an event like this before.

"We've solicited money but this is our first big fundraiser," she added. "The campaign has a lot of momentum, but we have no budget."

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