changed to match U.Va. employees' free speech rights
recent dispute about the dress code of a company with whom the
University contracts has resulted in the company revising its
policy to allow employees to wear $8 buttons in support of the
Living Wage Campaign. The dispute also gave the University the
opportunity to reiterate its stance on the issue: U.Va. employees,
as well as workers employed by contracted companies, have the
right to exercise free speech in this manner.
response to the U.Va. Labor Action Group's assertion that
University employees have been threatened with disciplinary
action for wearing $8 buttons, Sandridge wrote, ģIf you have
any evidence that employees have been threatened, please let
me know. We are committed to preserving the right of employees
to express their views in appropriate ways." Leonard
W. Sandridge Executive Vice President and Chief Operating
controversy arose when Richelle "Shelly" Burress, a
nutrition services employee of Morrison Management Specialists,
the company contracted to run the University Hospital Cafeteria,
was sent home from work by her supervisors Nov. 24 for wearing
the Living Wage Campaign's $8 button on her uniform. Burress was
allowed to return to work Dec. 1 and to wear the $8 button, following
negotiations between U.Va. and Morrison's officials and the U.Va.
Labor Action Group (LAG), which spearheads the Living Wage Campaign.
day of her return to work coincided with a rally organized by
LAG in support of the campaign, whose goal is to raise employees'
wages to at least $8 per hour -- the federal guideline set as
the minimum hourly pay needed to bring heads of households
with three or more dependents above the poverty line.
who has worked for Morrison's at the hospital since April, said
she learned about LAG and its Living Wage Campaign from pamphlets
the group leaves free-for-the-taking in the cafeteria. She said
she read the material, agreed with its cause and decided to wear
one of the $8 buttons also there for the taking. "The first
day I wore the pin to work [Nov. 23] nothing was said." The
next day, however, Burress' supervisor told her she had to remove
the pin or leave work, she recalled. Morrison's dress code prohibited
the wearing of such accessories on the company uniform.
went home and contacted LAG founder and spokesperson Nelson Lichtenstein,
whose phone number is listed on the group's pamphlet.
a U.Va. history professor, and other LAG members brought the matter
to the attention of University officials. After deliberating with
Morrison's, a revised policy was issued that allows employees
of the Health System to wear the $8 button at work if they so
"What U.Va.'s policy is regarding its employees is what Morrison's
would adopt as well," said Jim English, Morrison's senior
director of Nutrition Services.
the Dec. 1 lunchtime rally Lichtenstein said, "We have a
tremendous amount of support inside U.Va." and beyond the
Grounds. About 70 people braved the cold to support Burress and
the Living Wage Campaign. All who spoke commended Burress for
by the support she's received, Burress told the crowd, "Anytime
anyone needs my help, I'm here for you." Then she -- with
her two-year-old daughter, Uniqua, in tow -- ascended the hill
to the cafeteria where she was reporting to work for the first
time since being sent home a week earlier.
Following the rally, Leonard
W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating
officer, responded to a letter from LAG. Sandridge reiterated
the University's commitment to "the right of employees to
express their views" in his Dec. 3 letter, which he also
sent to U.Va. President John T. Casteen III and Dr. Robert W.
Cantrell, vice president for the Health
System. "We asked Morrison Management Specialists to
review the application of their company dress code policy to employees
working in the University Health System. Morrison has done so,
and issued a statement ... announcing a modification of the policy
in order to be fair and consistent to all employees," Sandridge
wrote. Responding to LAG's assertion that U.Va. employees fear
disciplinary action from supervisors for wearing $8 buttons, Sandridge
stated, "If you have any evidence that employees have been
threatened, please let me know.