Sunday, April 16, 2006
JUST WANT A LIVING WAGE FOR GOD'S SAKE
Seventeen students at the University of Virginia were arrested yesterday at a sit-in demanding workers at the University be paid a living wage. Many of the handcuffed students were carried out of UV's Madison Hall into waiting paddy wagons at 7 p.m. President John T. Casteen III ordered the arrests, shortly after he and other top administrators met with the students when he decided the negotiations weren't heading where he wanted them to go.
The first article is from the Cavalier Daily (student newspaper at the University of Virginia). Following that article is a statement about the sit in by UV's Living Wage Campaign.
Seventeen sit-in participants arrested for trespassing
SUNDAY, APRIL 16, 2006, 1:10 A.M. -- Seventeen student protesters inside Madison Hall were arrested by University Police at 7 p.m. this evening on the fourth day of a sit-in conducted by members of the Living Wage Campaign. The students will be held at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail until Monday, according to organizers with the campaign.
Originally, University President John T. Casteen, III gave the 17 students until 2 p.m. Saturday to organize a counterproposal to the one issued by Casteen earlier that morning, which the students were not able to meet, according to Patricia M. Lampkin, vice president for student affairs.
The original deadline was extended by one hour to 3 p.m., Lampkin added. Casteen met with the students conducting the sit-in at about 4 p.m.
By late afternoon, it seemed as if discussion had reached a stalemate. At about 6:30 p.m., Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, told the 17 students that they had the option of leaving Madison Hall, being issued a summons or being arrested, University spokesperson Carol Wood said.
The arrests were prompted by the 17 students indicating that they were not going to leave Madison Hall when faced with that ultimatum, Wood said.
“It was clear that things were not moving forward and the students felt like they were going to stay in Madison Hall,” Wood said.
Campaign organizer Benjamin Van Dyne said the arrests were prompted because there was not substantive movement towards achieving their goal and they would not leave unless removed by force.
Another factor contributing to the arrest was the fact that the students occupying Madison Hall were inconveniencing the police and administration during a holiday weekend, Wood said.
To protesters outside Madison Hall, the arrests seemed abrupt. Living Wage Campaign organizers said at the time they did not know what particular incident prompted the arrests.
“We engaged in civil disobedience with awareness of the legal consequences,” said Living Wage Campaign organizer Abby Bellows, following the arrests of the 17 students. “Yet still we are very disappointed that this is how the University has chosen to respond to the critical thinking and constructive compromises of students standing with workers.”
Wood indicated that the only criminal charges against the students being brought by the University were charges of trespassing. Wood would not comment on the possibility of University Judiciary Committee charges against the 17 students for violations of the University's Standards of Conduct because of the confidentiality of UJC proceedings.
“We take no pleasure in arresting our own students. That was not something we wanted to do or ever intended to do. It was unfortunate and sad that we had to come to closure on this,” Wood said.
The 17 students were taken to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. On the first day of the sit-in, Anthropology Prof. Wende Marshall was arrested and charged with trespassing. She was released after about one hour and issued a summons. Van Dyne said shortly after the arrests that he expected similar treatment of the 17 sit-in participants.
However, Todd Rosenbaum, a Living Wage Campaign organizer, said after discussing the issue with a lawyer for the campaign, it became evident that the students would not be released until Monday morning. Organizers encouraged students who had moved to protest outside the jail to return to Madison Hall.
The Living Wage Campaign has arranged for pro-bono legal counsel to represent the students. That attorney was present at the jail after the arrests. Van Dyne said his main concern was the safety of the 17 that have been taken into custody.
Van Dyne said the students were involved in what they believed to be good-faith negotiations with the administration and after making a counter offer to Casteen’s offer the students were arrested. The final decision to arrest the students was Casteen’s, Wood said.
According to campaign organizers, the Living Wage Campaign did not present a counterproposal by the 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. deadlines based on several terms they insisted upon for negotiation. Campaign organizers on the outside wanted to meet with those protesters inside Madison Hall, an attorney present at future talks with Casteen and the ability to pass food into the building unobstructed, according to Van Dyne.
According to organizers, Casteen wanted to set a future meeting date in about three weeks. After the two deadlines had passed, the Living Wage Campaign issued a counter-offer, Van Dyne said.
Several of the 17 students refused to move voluntarily and were physically removed from Madison Hall and lifted into police vans. The arrests took about 10 minutes to complete.
Approximately 50 students surrounded the vans and chanted, but did not otherwise interrupt the arrests.
Sixteen of the students arrested are: Zack Fields, Sean Butterfield, Khalial Withen, Katrina Salmons, Lauren Cruickshank, Carmen Comsti, Jillian Villars, Seth Croft, Kevin Simowitz, Sam Kroiz, Teresa Daniels, John Salidis, Lauren Jones, Shawn Casey, Hannah Rubenstein and Nina Camille Robbins. The Cavalier Daily cannot confirm the name of the 17th student at this time.
Why we are sitting in:
By the time you read this, members of the Living Wage Campaign at the University of Virginia will have begun a sit-in in Madison Hall, where University President John T. Casteen III’s office is located. Those students plan to sit in until the University accepts its moral responsibility and commits to paying a real living wage.
President Casteen has the authority to ensure that all University employees, direct and contracted, are paid a living wage. Despite our extensive research and our repeated attempts at honest, substantive dialogue, the administration has failed to provide appropriate compensation for the entire workforce or even express a commitment to doing so.
Hundreds of University workers, overwhelmingly women and people of color, are currently paid less than a living wage. Many housekeepers, dining hall workers, and other employees work a second full-time job after putting in a full day’s work at UVa. It is morally reprehensible to pay poverty wages to the very employees who keep our University safe, beautiful, and functioning, when we have the resources to compensate them with dignity. As thousands of students, workers, faculty members, unions, alumni/ae, and community members have agreed, no one should face these circumstances, and we cannot permit them in our community.
The Living Wage Campaign has worked since 1998 to ensure that all University employees can afford to live and raise their families in the Charlottesville community. After years of meetings and coalition-building, we believe that escalation is justified in order to force the administration to confront its responsibility for the poverty in our community.
Dr. Martin Luther King wrote that “in any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.” We believe that those steps have been taken at UVa by the Living Wage Campaign, our predecessors, and our allies.
Collection of Facts
Our recent report, “Keeping Our Promises,” presented to President Casteen and the University community, details the facts surrounding the issue of a living wage. In it we noted Charlottesville’s 25% poverty rate and addressed the leadership role the University must take, as the region’s largest employer, in combating that problem. The University maintains that all University employees are given opportunities to advance beyond entry-level positions, but we contend that no one should be expected to wait for promotion so that they can live in the community in which they work. We maintain that no one working full time should be forced to live in poverty. So long as any University employee earns a poverty wage we affirm that injustice exists.
We’ve met with administrators and members of the Board of Visitors. The Board has told us that they defer to the administration, and the administration has said to talk to the Board. Both have blinded themselves to solutions to the problem, preferring to hide behind legal excuses. Both have avoided taking responsibility for the poverty of some of the University’s most vulnerable employees. Although President Casteen has expressed his commitment to low-wage workers in the abstract, he has not taken concrete steps toward ensuring that no University employee earns poverty wages in the 2919 days since he was first publicly asked to do so. The most recent resolution in favor of a living wage has garnered signatures from over 1200 students, faculty, community members, clergy, University employees, alumni, and parents. Notable signatories include Julian Bond, Delegate David Toscano, and Charlottesville’s mayor, David Brown.
Throughout this Campaign, we have been very careful to guard the authenticity of our intentions and the moral legitimacy of our methods. We have been trained in nonviolent direct action, and have undertaken it in the full knowledge of its potential consequences. We have sought a solution to the problem of poverty wages in multiple and varied ways, but we have been obstructed by the administration at every turn. We believe we have reasonably met the condition of “self-purification.”
We are sitting in because we have exhausted every avenue of dialogue with the administration that could lead to a living wage. We are sitting in because UVa’s wage policies threaten the economic survival and violate the dignity of University workers. And finally, we are sitting in because poverty in our community is vicious and cannot wait any longer for remedy.
Our basic demand remains the same as always: All University employees, whether directly employed or hired through outside firms, must be paid a living wage of at least $10.72 per hour before benefits, adjusted at least annually to inflation and the cost of living in Charlottesville. Complete implementation also requires the following:
*Prioritization of currently employed workers. In implementing the living wage policy and in related organizational changes, no jobs, wages, or benefits will be eliminated or decreased as a result. Ultimately, the University has a responsibility to all members of its Community of Trust, and if contractors prefer to disengage from the University rather than respect our commitment to social justice, the University has an obligation to prioritize the employment of any workers who work under those contractors, and ensure that their job status at the University will not be eliminated as a result.
*Creation of an oversight committee. A committee should be formed to ensure fair and complete implementation of the agreed upon policy. This committee must include workers, students, faculty and administrators, and must work within the timeline of implementing this living wage policy by the first day of the 2006 Fall Semester.
Because our sit-in has been seriously considered and undertaken with the best interest of the University deeply at heart, we also demand that no one suffer disciplinary consequences or civil liability as a result of participation in these acts of peaceful civil disobedience. These immunity guidelines have routinely been demanded and met in the dozens of student sit-ins that have taken place nationally during the last decade.
The administration takes responsibility for ensuring that the University is a leader in terms of the students it produces, the faculty it attracts, and the research it does, but fails in the moral vision that it offers to the world. We will take that responsibility for this University that we love, and will continue to sit-in until our conditions are met.
For further information about the next steps in the campaign at UV go to http://www.uvalivingwage.net/