President Jim Ryan announced last week that he revised his living wage plan to raise the minimum wage for full-time contracted employees to $15 an hour. Previously, the starting wage for contracted employees was $10.65 per hour, making the new minimum a significant increase. This new wage floor is an extension of an earlier plan in which Ryan applied a $15 minimum wage to University employees. The addition of contracted employees to this plan is a very important step for the University, as it will bring better wages to over 800 employees. Ryan’s dedication to the living wage issue demonstrates his continued commitment to the University’s workers.
The wage increase will affect employees of Aramark and Morrison, which provide food services to the University, as well as some custodial, environmental services and child care companies. Contracted employees were notably excluded from Ryan’s original wage increase plan, as he cited legal barriers to raising their wages. Nevertheless, Colette Sheehy, the University’s senior vice president for operations, said the University administration prioritized this issue and was able to work with the contractors to raise these wages.
The University’s implementation of a higher minimum wage is the most important aspect of Ryan’s ongoing goal to create better relations with the Charlottesville area. According to a 2019 survey from Ryan’s University-Community Working Group, jobs and wages are the most important issue to Charlottesville residents. Specifically, the survey results noted that the University should prioritize offering living wages to both University and contracted employees to foster stronger connections with the community. Now that higher wages can be extended to 96 percent of workers at the University, further initiatives pertaining to affordable housing and education, for example, can better satisfy the needs of the community.
Nevertheless, there is still work to be done to ensure that low-wage workers can afford to live in this community. Most notably, there is debate about what constitutes a living wage in Charlottesville. According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, a living wage for a single adult with no children would be $12.36 while a living wage for a single adult with one child would be $27.20. Furthermore, the Living Wage Campaign published that the Charlottesville living wage is actually $16.84 plus benefits in response to Ryan’s new wage increase.
One way to address some of the problems put forward by critics of the new minimum wage plan is to index the wage to inflation. Implementing this policy is important because over time, even the most generous increases in the minimum wage will decrease in value. Indexing would also prevent activists from having to continually advocate for minimum wage increases as the wage will automatically be adjusted. Although Ryan said that the administration will reevaluate wages on a yearly basis, an explicit promise to index wages would ensure that he stands by his word.
Despite these minor criticisms, the expanded living wage plan is a major step forward for the University. Hopefully our suggestions can serve as inspiration for the continued improvement of U.Va.’s living wage plan. In the meantime, Ryan and University administration should be congratulated for these efforts to satisfy the demands of student activists, community leaders and, most notably, the working community in Charlottesville.
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