Unfed for a cause: Student hunger strike enters second week

Exhausted and hungry but determined. That's how the 20 UVA students on a hunger strike to protest for a "living wage" at UVA describe themselves.

On Monday, February 27– a full 10 days since some of them ate– the Living Wage Campaign held a Rotunda-area protest to report results of an hours-earlier meeting with UVA President Teresa Sullivan.

Any hunger strikers hoping for a meal were disappointed.

"At this point, no real progress has been made," said UVA English professor Susan Fraiman, part of a five-person negotiating team that met with Sullivan.

On February 17, at the beginning of the hunger strike– the latest in a series of efforts to pressure UVA to raise its minimum wage to $13 an hour– Sullivan responded with a university-wide email in which she defended the University's pay structure by including the value of healthcare and other benefits.

"The actual current minimum starting pay for an entry-level employee including the average level of health benefits is $14.55 per hour, exceeding the students' demand by $1.55 per hour," Sullivan wrote. Adding in other benefits, she wrote, translates into a minimum pay of $17.07 to $20.20 per hour.

That calculation doesn't sit well with Living Wagers, who note on their website that Sullivan's own academic research as a sociologist explores the need for a living wage.

"It's an inaccurate distinction," said Deborah McDowell, director of UVA's Carter G. Woodson Institute and one of 300 faculty members petitioning Sullivan to raise compensation for the lowest paid employees. "You don't compensate a living wage by folding in the benefits. Benefits don't pay bills."

By 12:30pm, well over 100 people– students, faculty, and plain old Charlottesville residents– had gathered in front of the Rotunda bearing signs for the cause. Drivers on University Avenue frequently honked to show support, as did the drivers of multiple city buses.

"I'm not just doing it for the workers; I'm doing it for their kids," said first year student Marvin Nogueda, who described the challenges of his own childhood, when his mother worked for minimum wage, and he couldn't participate in many activities.

"I'm upset as a UVA alum when our university doesn't measure up to the standards of most top universities in the country," said recent grad school graduate Katy Blumenthal, who joined the hunger strike two days ago.

And Tim Bruno, a grad student who was among the first to shun food, described losing 14 pounds and his energy along with it.

"It's really taking its toll," he told the gathering, before urging the administration to listen to Living Wagers' demands. "All of us are still standing up for what's right," he said. "So please, don't sit down on the job."

Also present was UVA football player Joseph Williams, who brought national attention to the strike when his story was published on activist filmmaker Michael Moore's blog.

According to numerous online sources, the average human adult can survive up to 60 days without sustenance, but the toll can be brutal. After fat stores are depleted, a starving body begins cannibalizing lean tissue, and organ failure eventually results.

One renowned figure protesting this way was martyred Indian politician Mohandas Gandhi. In the summer of 1981, 10 Irish prisoners– members of the Irish Republican Army and the Irish National Liberation Army– died after starving themselves for between 46 and 73 days.

The UVA students are under medical supervision, they say, and one student told a reporter she ended her participation at a doctor's recommendation after she'd lost 15 pounds and a lot of hair after just eight days.

Campaign member and faculty member Fraiman suggested that the Living Wagers have found some "common ground" with the school administration, and another meeting might take place as early as Tuesday, February 28.

"We'll work harder for this than they'll work against it," a 10-day-hunger striker named Kyle shouted to the crowd.

While the group didn't gain entry to Sullivan's office, UVA vice president of student affairs Patricia Lampkin came outside and stood on the steps.

"I'm hungry, I"m thirsty," one hunger striker called out.

"Get some water, Robert," Lampkin wearily replied.


It isn't just those directly employed by UVA but UVA contracts out to companies - one that does the cleaning to their Research Park on 29 North. Those workers get minimum wadge and if they want health care it would take most of their pay. Those buildings both have been subject to thefts because obviously the people employed do not get enough.

So if UVA places an ad out for these positions then people will not line up for the job?

These kids should be hunger striking against all the other students who drive up prices by paying 6 bucks for a cup of coffee and 150 bucks for a pair of tennis shoes.

I hope they starve.

Susan Fraiman makes $90,500, and Deborah McDowell makes $204,000, according to the database I just checked. This has nothing to do with anything, really--they both no doubt do good work and have earned their positions and salaries. They have every right to speak out on this issue. Still, something about that...I don't know. I respect the students standing up for what they believe in, and of course I want all UVA employees to be compensated fairly. But is the University clearly in the wrong here? I am not so sure.

"I'm upset as a UVA alum when our university doesn't measure up to the standards of most top universities in the country," said recent grad school graduate Katy Blumenthal, who joined the hunger strike two days ago.

UVa will never measure up to the standards of most top universities in the country if UVa cannot treat all of its employees fairly and with respect. Instead, UVa will forever remain that school that is almost, but not quite as good as the top tier schools it aspires to be.

President Sullivan should be mindful of that.

An Alternative to Capitalism (if the people knew about it, they would demand it)

Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative". She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:


John Steinsvold

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."
~ Albert Einstein

Not great pay, but far better than what I thought from all the hoopla. Lots of architects with Master's degrees would be happy to be making $17.07 to $20.20 per hour right now. Yes benefits do matter. I don't get paid when I take personal time for example. I used to and I know what a difference it make

When and where did Einstein define insanity? I thought the quote came from C'Ville's own Rita Mae Brown.

There is only one solution. Raise tuition by X percentage and pass that cost directly to the students and their parents. Hell....might as well hire another 100 employees so no one has to work over 4 hours a day. New cars for everyone. How about gas cards or maybe another iphone?

The university and medical center has a long history of underpaying its employees from the lowest to the highest ranks with the exception of the internally chosen or recruited (not voted upon) administrative types that are compensated at the private sector levels. The top brass has always believed that the allure to live in Charlottesville is enough to attract talent though this does not apply to the lowest level employees since they cannot afford the insane property tax assessments in Albemarle county.

Its nice to see that there are some UVa students these days who are doing something besides getting drunk, and committing rape and murder.
Hunger strikes as a form of protest have a long history. Gandhi used the tactic extensively. And I recall there was a fast as part of anti Vietnam war protest when I was a student.
Not just UVa, but all working people who live here need better wages and benefits. And neither political party is interested in the issue.

Why is the media not reporting that the hunger strike is only scheduled for Monday through Friday between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.?

It's true.

So in theory, a student can eat breakfast around 8:00-9:00 a.m., skip lunch, and eat dinner around 6:00 p.m. And they can eat as much as they want all weekend long.

This childish farce needs to be reported for what it is.

So CF.
Would you rather have a job making something with benefits or no job and no benefits?
Supply and demand is the key to wages as it is with everything else.

"Benefits don't pay bills."

I believe the students are protesting from 10-5, with rallies, etc during that time. I know for a fact that they are not eating breakfast, dinner and on weekends.

I have a perfect plan: Why not just set the minimum wage at $250,000 a year? Then we could all be part of the 1%... right?


dear amanda, you are wrong. the hunger strikers are not eating ALL day EVERY day. they have a scheduled presence on grounds from 10am-5pm. then many of them stay on grounds for flash seminars at brooks hall. they go home after that, or to other peoples homes so their health can be monitored.

and supply and demand does not have to be the key to wages. that is an exploitative metric. what's true is that more than half of full time uva employees have to work two or three jobs just to survive. anyone working full time should not have to endure the stress of working multiple jobs just to be able to eat, pay utilities, pay rent, pay gas and keep themselves and their families in clothes.

think about what this does to a family. if you're a parent and you have to work two or even three jobs to keep the lights on and kids fed, you probably dont actually get to spend a lot of time being a parent. you're probably always exhausted, always stressed out and always unavailable.

charlottesville is an expensive place to live. UVA is one the biggest employer in charlottesville. people working there cannot afford to live here. so add in mad commutes to the stress of the job. add in the fact that that money does not come back into our community. add in the additional stress placed on social services because uva employees cant afford their basic expenses. add in the dignity stripped from thousands of workers who have to work long hours and still rely on those social services.

it makes sense to instate a living wage and it would take LESS THAN 0.1% of the university's operating budget to instate. so why are people dragging their feet.

and CF, benefits DONT pay bills. some of the "benefits" calculated into the $/hr wage are education credits. but what employee working full time plus another job has time to take classes, or can afford to take them? since when did health care benefits pay for food? it's just not fair to claim you are paying such high wages by lumping in those benefits.

I am amused by the living wage web site and the names of UVa faculty who have signed the petition. I am glad that this is the extent of their efforts to raise people economically.
Many of them are humanties/arts professors (language, etc.). These are folks who basically teach students unmarketable skills (many of those students taking the major with no real direction of where they want to go, they just had to go to college), then send them out into the world with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Then, unable to find work, these neophytes accept lower-paying positions because they discover there is not much of a market for a history major with a minor in Hebrew. A great example is Fraiman, prepping those English majors for a high paying career in..."um, I'm not sure. I just heard that English was an easy major."
Then we have the law profs who signed the petition. Now these are folks who educate students who graduate, with many grads going into practice to seek out personal injury victims or other middle- and lower-class folks who have been "victimized," then take 33 percent of what that victim is entitled to as their fee.
The folks certainly put the "tard" in libtard." They should be "Bobby-Sandbagged."
R.I.P.: Tom Tryon

So don't eat. I don't give a sheet.

Do we know what the cost for actually meeting this demand would be. If you met all of the demands(save for the contractor--which may not be legally possible)--how much money would it take? My guess, with the number of employees at that level and the relatively modest increase required, is that it would be a very small number, in the grand scheme of UVa expenditures. I am surprised there is not more of this type of analysis--especially comparing it to the cost of other items--like the annual budget for catering of receptions or some other item that would compare poorly to a living wage.

Yes, benefits do pay bills. Health care benefits pay your doctor and hospital bills.
As anyone older than 25 or so should realize, It's not sustainable to pay people more than they're worth in an open market because you feel sorry for them or like them.
Sara - Living in the same small town where you work is not a right.
Being able to support whatever size family you want on one job is not a right. These are things that people earn by learning skills that are in demand and working hard.I suppose though, that most of the protestors will learn this after about 10 years in the workforce. . . if they ever learn the skills necessary to enter the workforce.

People who work in the hospital should be able to go to the hospital. Even if they are not direct UVa employees. And of course the university can require this of its contractors. It is a negotiated contract, after all.

Or to put it more practically, people who care for patients should not be at work sick.

This is all surreal. It's like a child holding their breath to try and get their way.

If they're so worried about it maybe these students should work their way up into UVA management, then they can affect things first-hand.

Since Va is not fully funding the Va. pension program. What about stopping all state pensions to all UVa workers making over 50K or 100K a year then upping the pay of the lowest. The workers making over 50 or 100K a year can put in their own money to an IRA like the rest of us. The Va pension system is going to be a big problem at some point.

Critical to any education--work at a minimum wage
job, visit a third world country, join the military (not
as an officer), work in a hospital, and/or put yourself in a situation
where you're a minority. Excellent cures for arrogance
and lack of empathy.

Carrboro Pete, are you kidding? in your rhetoric, i hear you say that if they wanted the right to work with dignity and receive a wage that allows them to live IN the community they serve, they should be willing to educate themselves into more prestigious skillsets. does that mean, in your world view, that there would be no one to work in the service sector? that ultimately, everyone would better themselves enough that they wouldnt need to wash dishes or do janitorial work to survive? then who would keep the university operating? what your missing is that all work is dignified, and that all people working to serve a community deserve to be paid a wage that allows them to survive in that community.

your logic is weak and your humanity is ostensibly missing, carrboro. what you seem to be advocating is an exploited servant class. what we're saying is that we will no longer allow the proponents of open market economics and an administration that claims to want to create a "caring community" to exploit those people who do the hard work of keeping the university running. find your humanity, carrboro.

Would it be a violation of the Honor Code to cheat on a hunger strike? I'm sure there's some of that goin' on.

Sara, you are incorrect in your assumptions and accusations. No one is "exploiting" anyone. These jobs at UVA should not even offer health insurance or retirement. These jobs should be entry level transitional jobs and should have high turnover as people strive to better themselves. They should be filled by students, legal immigrants, people rebuiding their character,those who need a second income. etc.

If you look at the number of unemployed who live at home and have healthcare through their parents, or spouses it is probably equal to the number of people who are in lower level jobs who should get a skill and move on so these people can get a start in their life.

Those who expect to feed a family of four by mopping floors are selfish and deserve to live in poverty. Thy consume more than they contribute and they rob a student or entry level person the ability to gain some work experience.

If your job only needs one hour training then you need to get a more marketable skill and move on. Nobody "owes" you anything but a free education and police protection. The rest is up to you.

It is wrong to pay a person who mops the floor at UVA more than than the guy who is an electricians assistant or a bus driver who is directly responsible for 50 or more lives every day.

It's Lent. Good time to fast and put your mind on spiritual things..........not a "living wage".

Benefits should be taxed like income. So many people who work do not have benefits. That would help level the playing field. I can understand the somewhat the attitudes of the young students are based on their inexperience in the world of work but what's with those old gray billy goat instructors? Oh, I know, they're angry that their children can't support themselves and they are tired of helping to take care of them. Secretly, they wish their kids had those jobs. Isn't it amazing that these people can hang around between 10 AM and 5 PM? One would think that students would have work to do, like reading, writing and studying. I guess they are learning that they can get something (a degree) for nothing and they expect everybody who reports to work should too.
If you tax benefits people will start appreciating them.

"since they cannot afford the insane property tax assessments in Albemarle county."

Thats what happens with unrestricted sprawl and unnecessary dams and constantly building half occupied business developments. Just think how much it would be if they actually had to pay the city for the use of their assets.

Have the protesters evaluated the effect of raising the salaries of the worker to $13/hr will have on the worker's Earned Income Credit? If the workers are living in subsidized housing (they must be according to the image the protesters have painted of them), how much of this raise will go to their housing (30% goes to landlords)? Are they starving themselves in order to put more money in the landlords' pockets? What will be the effects on their food stamps or WIC? Could it be the workers know the answers and that is why they have not joined the strikers.

I have to say that I have more respect for these protesters than I did for the occupiers.

I really do not see much difference except they are middle class and the occupiers were a hodge-podge and they are not threatening to commandeer property from fear of expulsion and the occupiers thought they had nothing to lose until they were fined. I never respect the opinion of groups of people who believe they are advocating for a group of which they are not a part. These people at UVA have no idea how people earning less than $13/hr make ends meet. They are just following stereotypes. The young ones I can understand but those old, gray, bill goats (faculty) have no excuse. Oh, and there thoroughly lack of the capacity to reason is par for the course with Kristin Szakos.

Sorry "there" = "the"