After decades of student and community activism, the University of Virginia has raised its base wage for full-time employees from $12.75 to $15 an hour, starting in January 2020.

UVa President Jim Ryan made the announcement on Thursday. Ryan took office in August.

“As a university, we should live our values — and part of that means making sure that no one who works at UVa should live in poverty,” Ryan said.

Approximately 1,400 full-time, benefits-eligible employees will receive raises, including employees of the university’s medical center, or nearly 10 percent of the number of families struggling to afford basic necessities in the Charlottesville region.

The announcement comes one week after Ryan’s University-Community Working Group published its report citing living wages as the community’s top priority for university action.

Harold Folley, a community organizer with Legal Aid Justice Center, is a member of Ryan’s working group. Folley has also worked with Virginia Organizing, which has pushed for wage increases alongside the Living Wage Campaign at UVa.

“This was a surprise for me,” Folley said. “I remember at one time we wanted $8 to $9 for a living wage. Now it’s up to $15 to $17. That’s how long folks have been fighting for a living wage at UVa.”

Employees who were already making $15 or $16.25 an hour will receive raises, as well.

The wage increase will not affect contract workers, like the employees of Aramark Corp. who provide dining services. Ryan said those workers make up 40 percent of UVa employees making less than $15 an hour and that his team will try to negotiate with contractors to raise their wages, as well.

“I don’t believe the perfect should be the enemy of the good, and the fact that we can’t do everything all at once shouldn’t keep us from doing what we can, for the employees we can, as soon as we can,” Ryan said.

Working group member Ridge Schuyler, who researches community self-sufficiency at Piedmont Virginia Community College, said that Charlottesville-based employees benefitting from the wage increase would still have to pay more than half of their annual income — $15,900 — on housing every year.

“For folks who are getting a $4,500 a year raise … that’s $4,500 more in their pockets that can help them afford the things they need, but we’ve got to keep moving them up the income ladder,” Schuyler said.

The university has estimated that the cost of the wage increases is $3.5 million, plus $500,000 for compression adjustments for $15 and $16.24 hourly wage employees. The university will pay for the wage increases with cost savings elsewhere at the university.

Schuyler said the university’s expenditure benefits both the university, decreasing the expenses of turnover, and the surrounding community.

“That’s $3.5 million that citizens can spend in our local economy. It’s $3.5 million worth of reduced stress,” Schuyler said.

Ryan said that the university’s next steps include negotiations for contract workers, analyzing wages at UVa’s College at Wise and taking action in the community’s second highest priority: affordable housing.

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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.