The University of Virginia has acted on its promise to extend its recent $15 hourly minimum wage to contract employees. 

The announcement, which the university made Thursday morning, means that contracted employees, like floor technician Shon Parker, will get much needed raises next year.

“It’s a decent job. I like the job,” Parker said, “But I really think that we’re overworked and underpaid.”

Roughly 800 full-time contract workers will benefit from the new minimum wage, UVa announced. The university focused on large contractors, like dining services provider Aramark and childcare provider KinderCare, and said that they are continuing to work with the contractors that have not yet participated.

There now are fewer than 100 people who are earning less than $15 an hour, university spokesperson Wes Hester said. 

Parker said that he made $10.65 an hour when he started in his position six years ago and that he now makes $11.63 an hour. The new wage increase is more than triple the raises he has received over the course of six years. 

“Of course,” he said when asked whether he expected his income to change more. 

“But you know, it is what it is. You’ve just got to hold on to what you’ve got, especially if you don’t have anything else.”

Parker’s salary has meant that rent and insurance eat the vast majority of his salary and that he has to pick up odd jobs moving furniture. He said that he has seen others move from Charlottesville to Waynesboro to escape the rising cost of living. 

Parker’s experience as an employee has added onto his 30 years of experience as a community member. As a non-student, Parker said that he has felt like a second-class citizen. Community members are sometimes not welcomed at establishments near the university, while students are welcome throughout the city, he said. 

The commitment to contract workers is part of UVa’s recent efforts to strengthen its relationship with the surrounding community. The efforts are based on recommendations from the University-Community Working Group, which UVa President Jim Ryan formed soon after taking office in 2018.

The working group identified jobs and wages as the community’s top priority for university action, based on an extensive survey of community members. 

One week after the release of the working group’s report, Ryan announced a new minimum wage for full-time, direct employees. Since then, the university also has established the UVa Equity Center to direct research into community partnerships, as recommended by the report. 

“As we strive to make UVa both great and good, offering a living wage to both full-time employees and our contracted employees are steps in the right direction,” Ryan said in a statement. “Over the years, this has been a seemingly intractable issue, and we are pleased to be taking this step forward.”

Raising the minimum wage for 1,239 UVa employees to $15 an hour will cost the university roughly $1.5 million, including benefits. The university plans to accommodate that ongoing cost with efficiencies elsewhere but does not expect the cost of student meal plans to change beyond normal increases, Hester said. 

To help guide future reforms, UVa has converted the working group into a more permanent President’s Council on UVa-Community Partnerships. The new council has largely the same members, but Zyahna Bryant will serve as the student representative. Bryant helped launch the movement to take down the Confederate statues in Charlottesville with her petition as a ninth grader at Charlottesville High School. 

One recommendation outlined in the report, but not yet implemented, is strengthening the career ladder for marginalized populations. Parker said that he has not been offered any promotions or ways to earn promotions in his time at UVa.

However, offering advancement opportunities to staff is part of UVa’s 2030 Plan and the university remains committed, Hester said.

Meanwhile, Parker said that he is excited that the raise is confirmed after months of talks and years of student and community activism. 

“I’m ecstatic about the pay increase. I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait for Jan. 1 and the new year,” Parker said.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Yale in 2016. She covered growth, development, and affordable living. Before writing for Charlottesville Tomorrow, she produced a podcast on education and caste in Maharashtra, India.