Dec. 10, 1999-Jan. 13, 2000
IN THIS ISSUE
Alumnus Frank Batten Sr. gives $60 million to Darden entrepreneurial institute
Policy changed to match U.Va. employees' free speech rights
In age of narrow specialization, a writer who does it all

Garrett to receive $10,000 Aiken Taylor Award for his poetry

Exhibit explores 300 years of American views on apocalypse
Hot Links -- Governmental Relations
In Memoriam
Y2K workers gear up, but expect a quiet night
U.Va. is ready for Y2K -- are you?
U.Va. gets $1 million IBM grant to develop e-business technologies
NEH challenge grant will boost E-text Center endowment
Legislative forum to be held Jan. 7
Entrepreneurial spirit continues to feed Frank Batten's success
TOP NEWS
$8 button

Policy changed to match U.Va. employees' free speech rights

By Rebecca Arrington

A 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.

In 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 Officer

The 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.

The 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.

Burress, 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.

Burress went home and contacted LAG founder and spokesperson Nelson Lichtenstein, whose phone number is listed on the group's pamphlet.

Lichtenstein, 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 choose.

"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.

At 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 her courage.

Overwhelmed 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.


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