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Burress' supporters rally for free speech

Protesters raised signs and chanted slogans on the Lawn yesterday as about 60 students, faculty members and University employees gathered to rally in support of Richelle Burress and the $8 Living Wage Campaign.

Last week, Burress, a hospital cafeteria cashier, was sent home after refusing to remove a button supporting the $8 living wage. She called the Labor Action Group for aid and garnered media attention for her situation. Morrison Management Specialists allowed Burress to return to her job yesterday, and said she could wear the pin at work.

"They figured I would be one of the ones who would just take [the button] off, but I was going to keep fighting," she said.

The rally, starting at the steps of Old Cabell Hall and culminating in the Hospital Cafeteria, was organized, not only to support Burress' actions, but also to inform other University employees of their right to free speech.

"We are going to stand behind her. There is a great fear among employees that they will be fired. We'll break that fear," said Nelson Lichtenstein, history professor and LAG member.

The Labor Action Group advocates raising the minimum wage of University and its contracted employees to $8 an hour.

Rally participants displayed signs and chanted while passing out buttons to University employees to show their support.

"Now workers know that there is power in numbers and the University sees that we can organize. We want the University to make a public statement that employees have rights to wear buttons and organize for better working conditions," said Susan Fraiman, assistant English professor and LAG member.

Students attending the rally said they were impressed with both the turnout and the rally's implications.

"I just hope that it opens the door for other people to speak out for what they feel is unjust. I wish more people could find that courage," first-year College student Priya Curtis said.

Many students saw University employees taking buttons as a step in the right direction.

"A lot of misinformation is being produced by management. If we can counteract that, it's a step forward," said Chris Nehls, Graduate Arts and Sciences student.

Rally supporters and organizers said they hope University employees and the community now will be more aware of their rights to free speech and organized protests.

"We want to emphasize that this campaign is finally about a strong voice for all University workers and that everyone stands to benefit from free speech rights of employees," Fraiman said.

Burress said she never doubted her ability to stick to her convictions.

"I've been like that all my life. When I believe in something I go for it," she said.


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