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Rally calls for extensions of wage increase

Chanting "No justice, no peace" and "Hey, hey, U.Va., contract workers need more pay" as passing drivers honked their horns and waved, about 40 supporters of the University's Labor Action Group gathered in front of Madison Hall Friday to celebrate the University's new pay scale and to call for further action.

LAG held its "Victory Rally" in response to the University's recent decision to raise the minimum wage of some classified employees to $8.19 - an act that University officials said had nothing to do with pressure from labor activists who have been working since 1997 to raise the minimum wage.

According to federal guidelines, $8 is the minimum wage needed to bring a family of four up to the poverty line - a fact often cited by LAG activists.

The new pay rate does not apply to contracted employees, such as those employed by ARAmark, the University's dining service.

Although Colette Sheehy, University vice president for management and budget, has denied that the minimum wage increase was a result of pressure from LAG, speakers at the rally said they believed LAG played a direct role in the University's decision.

Sue Herndon, University Hospital patient satisfaction analyst, said employee morale at the hospital was low before the pay scale increase and praised LAG's efforts to pressure the University into adopting an $8 minimum wage for all employees.

"I thought there was no way you'd get the hospital to think of the employees before the bottom line. I was wrong," Herndon said.

The hospital previously had shown little concern for employees at the lower end of the pay scale, she said.

"No one has ever said to us as classified employees that we matter," she added.

Herndon said the new minimum wage makes it possible for classified employees to "feed the kids and pay the rent without worrying about it all night long."

Graduate College student Derek Nystrom also touted LAG's effectiveness in encouraging the University to raise the pay scale.

"Organization and solidarity breeds a better life," Nystrom said. Organizations like LAG help protect workers from the inequities of the free market, he said.

In a written statement to rally participants, City Councilor Meredith Richards, who could not attend the rally, said the University's decision would improve the lives of many employees.

The increased minimum wage would enable "more families to break through the suffocating cycle of poverty," Richards said.

Other speakers at the rally stressed that LAG's work is far from over, noting that some independently contracted employees still will receive wages below $8 an hour.

"We support the fight, and we hope the battle will soon be won," Charlottesville NAACP President Priscilla Whiting said.

English Prof. Susan Fraiman and History Prof. Nelson Lichtenstein lambasted the University's "Pay for Performance" plan, which would provide classified employees who meet a certain performance standard to receive a 3.25 percent pay raise as of Nov. 25.

"The Pay for Performance plan is an insult to University employees ... it's an utterly manipulative procedure," Lichtenstein said.

Fraiman voiced concerns that the plan does not have a stable source of funding. The plan puts too much power into the hands of the management, who can "evaluate staff in a way that affects salary," she said.