The University introduced efforts to support workers furloughed by its contractors — such as Aramark — in an announcement from University President Jim Ryan to the University community Monday. The efforts include establishing a $2 million emergency assistance fund for the University’s contract workers and an additional $1 million to Charlottesville Area Community Foundation efforts.
“A core aspiration of our strategic plan is to be a university that is both great and good,” Ryan said. “Toward that end, we have committed to doing our best to be a good neighbor and to live our values. That means, among other things, doing what we can to support our most vulnerable community members.”
The University launched a page including information on eligibility and how to apply for access to emergency funding on its Human Resources website Wednesday. According to the site, the fund will cover personal expenses, household and shelter needs and health or medical emergencies. This support is extended to active employees of the University, its Health System and the University Physicians Group; actively employed or temporarily furloughed by a contractor or company providing "core operational services" to the University or Medical Center; actively employed by or temporarily furloughed by a University-associated organization — as well as individuals who meet any of these criteria but are currently on leave, with or without pay.
In their March 17 update to the University community, Ryan and Magill assured all part-time and full-time employees that their compensation and benefits would remain unchanged “for the foreseeable future,” but they could not extend the guarantee to contracted employees.
Aramark employees have reported being laid-off without notice or severance. A community petition that has garnered over 1,100 signatures argues that the University has a responsibility to support all workers — both contract and direct — and cites Aramark workers’ reports of cut hours and lay-offs.
Over 1,000 employees work for the University’s various contractors, which include child care providers Bright Horizons and KinderCare, mail service provider Excela and food service providers Morrison and Aramark.
Ryan acknowledged that benefits offered by contract employers are “not flowing as quickly as any of us would like.” He added that by providing a salary or wages to workers who had been furloughed by their contractors, the University would make contract workers ineligible for federal and state unemployment benefits.
“But we can provide funding to help meet an array of needs related to the crisis,” Ryan wrote in regards to the decision to establish an emergency fund. “Our primary focus will be to help those who have been furloughed, but this fund will also be available for those still employed and facing unexpected costs.”
The University will also support furloughed workers who need help applying for state and federal unemployment benefits and is establishing a way for employees of the University to donate directly to the emergency fund.
An independent GoFundMe organized by Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies and director of the University’s Center for Media and Citizenship, has raised over $34,000 to help the University’s contract workers. Following Ryan’s announcement, donations on the GoFundMe were closed, and Vaidhyanathan announced that he will be working with the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation and other local organizations to distribute the funds.
Along with the $2 million devoted to University workers — which will be operational until at least June 1 and will also serve those who are employed but facing financial hardship — the University is contributing $1 million to the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation’s Community Emergency Response Fund. The fund has already raised over $2.3 million in its efforts to provide flexible resources for households and organizations in the Central Virginia region affected by the pandemic. Those in need of assistance can call their Community Resource Helpline at 434-234-4490.
Ryan noted that updates on additional steps for supporting the community are forthcoming, along with details on the timeline and process for accessing funds from the University’s emergency fund.
This article has been updated.