By PHIL ARNONE & SYLVIA SIERRA
On Monday in the Virginia State Senate, a bill to increase the state minimum wage from the federal minimum of $5.15 an hour to $6.50 was unanimously passed through committee.
On the national level, Democrats are proposing to take action to increase the federal minimum wage after ten years of no increase.
The past decade of stagnation has caused tremendous hardships for low-wage workers and their families, and it is tremendously gratifying to see some alleviation of their hardship on the horizon.
In addition to these larger efforts, students, workers, and faculty of the Living Wage Campaign have been working for the past three years to better the situations of low-wage workers employed at the University of Mary Washington.
After overcoming stiff resistance from the administration, the Living Wage Campaign has succeeded in somewhat alleviating workers’ problems by finally convincing the administration to raise workers’ wages above the poverty level. Before the hard-won wage increase, the workers at UMW had not been granted a raise since 2000, despite the huge increases in the cost of living in the Fredericksburg area during that time.
These low wages have forced many workers to live far from the school, or to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Despite ongoing problems with the administration about the full implementation of the agreed-upon wage increase, the small victory for the Living Wage Campaign has inspired the students of the campaign to form the Labor Rights Club to expand the campaign. After many consultations with workers at Seacobeck and the Eagles Nest, we have learned that many of the same problems that have been affecting the University’s employees are also affecting Sodexo employees.
During these meetings, members of the Labor Rights Club and Sodexo workers have faced intimidation tactics and harassment from Sodexo management. In order to ensure that workers’ rights are respected at our university, the Labor Rights Club is calling for the university to adopt a Campus Labor Code of Conduct.
If adopted, this code of conduct will allow workers to pursue their rights without intimidation from the University and Sodexo. Workers will be able to express their views on issues such as collective bargaining and union representation without the fear of harassment or termination.
We are not asking for any special treatment for employees. We are just asking that the law be respected.
We did not expect to have to ask the University to adopt a Campus Labor Code of Conduct because we did not expect the flagrant violation of labor law that we have experienced on campus, but we hope that the University will cooperate with us in our effort to see that workers’ rights are respected on campus, and will remember that our University serves as a model for the rest of the community and for the state of Virginia.
Phil Arnone is a junior. Sylvia Sierra is a sophomore.