April 15, 2006 -- Seventeen University of Virginia students participating in a sit-in in Madison Hall, the University’s central administration building, were arrested at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 15, by University of Virginia Police after declining to leave the building when asked. All were charged with one count of criminal trespass. Additionally, one of the students was also charged with resisting arrest and another had an additional charge of vandalism.
University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III had been clear throughout the four days that while he respected the work that the group has done and their dedication to it, he did not believe that a sit-in in Madison Hall was the best way to reach their goals.
Several hours after a third meeting with the president left the situation at an impasse, the students were informed that they would have five minutes in which they could leave the building voluntarily without charges filed against them. They were also told that criminal trespass carries fines of up to $2,500 and up to 12 months in jail. When none of the students chose to leave of his or her own accord, the University police began making arrests but again afforded each student a second opportunity to exit rather than being arrested.
The students began the sit-in on the morning of Wednesday, April 12, in support of what they have termed a “living wage” for the University’s entry-level employees. At that time they took up temporary residence on the floor of the building’s front lobby, equipped with sleeping bags and enough food for several days. Additional protestors put up more than a half dozen tents on the front lawn of the building. The sit-in created a disruption in daily operations, preventing numerous staff members from doing their work and conducting the University’s business.
The students said they would not leave until the University agreed to pay its lowest-paid workers a salary of $10.72 an hour. Currently, the University’s lowest hourly wage rate is $9.37** an hour.
During the course of the sit-in, Casteen met with the students on three separate occasions and responded to them with two written documents, including one delivered just past midnight on Friday. (See his proposals at http://www.virginia.edu/wages/compensation.html.)
Casteen said he believed that he had given the 17 students adequate time and attention to move their agenda forward, and expressed his hope that they soon would leave the building of their own volition in order to get back to their daily activities, including attending class.
"We have called on many in the University community, including members of our University Police and Dean of Students Office, to work overtime and through the past few nights to ensure the safety of these students and the security of our facilities," Casteen said. "It has come at a cost to their personal and family lives on this religious holiday weekend. We believe it was important to bring this sit-in to conclusion so that others might get on with their lives and the staff of Madison Hall might be able to get back to work on Monday morning. The University takes no pleasure in having to arrest its own students, but it was time for the disruption to come to an end."
Four of the student group’s leaders met several weeks ago with Casteen and several other University administrators to discuss the students’ concerns and issues surrounding not only the pay rate of University’s entry level employees, but also the legal question of whether the University had the authority to require companies contracting with the University to implement a parallel pay rate.
On Wednesday, April 12, the first day of the sit-in, Casteen issued a statement to the students regarding compensation for contract employees along with a letter from the Office of the State Attorney General that read:
“It is the advice of this Office that the authority granted to the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia does not include the authority to require a minimum or living wage requirement that must be paid by private contractors and venders. Such authority can be exercised only by an explicit grant of authority from the General Assembly. Additionally, even if it were presumed that the University could act without such explicit grant of authority, it is the advice of this Office that the Public Procurement Act does not allow for the requirement of a living wage in the procurement process.”
Early Saturday morning, the fourth day of the sit-in, Casteen again met with the students, and offered a proposal that would provide the students an opportunity to become leaders on the issues of salary for low wage workers throughout the state.
;“I am concerned about your well being, and about the prospect that the inconvenience to you and to various persons who have not been able to conduct business owing to your occupancy of the lobby may be counter-productive for everyone at this point,” Casteen wrote in the introduction to the two-page proposal.
Included in Casteen’s proposal were offers:
- to create a joint commitment to develop solid analysis that would include comparability studies to demonstrate the effects of substituting the proposed living wage computation methodology for the standard methodologies now used;
- to state together that long-term under funding of the public payroll that supports classified workers is a major impediment to fair wages for these employees;
- to commit to recruiting key people to participate in the analysis to support a serious campaign with the General Assembly to explain and introduce the students’ issues.
Once they had received this proposal, the students asked that Casteen come to Madison Hall to discuss it with them. That meeting began around 1 a.m. and lasted an hour and a half. When the students voted to end the meeting at about 3 a.m., Casteen asked that that they have a response to his proposal ready by 2 p.m. that afternoon.
The issue of the availability of food for the students arose at the end of this meeting. Throughout the day on Friday, questions had been raised about whether or not the students did or did not have adequate food supplies with them. When Casteen asked if the students needed to have food brought to them, some said no while others said yes. Consequently, Casteen asked the University police to sort through food that had been left on Madison Hall's steps during a rally Friday afternoon, and to select enough of the best of that food to meet the students' needs.
On Saturday afternoon, Casteen returned for his third meeting with students who provided a new proposal to him. He spent an hour responding to this proposal, explaining which elements might be pursued and which would not be possible. At the end of this conversation, the president asked for a specific response to the proposal he had sent them. He was told that the group had unanimously agreed that his proposal did not merit a response from them.
At that point, it appeared that the group intended to stay on the floor in Madison Hall indefinitely. The president concluded by telling the students that he wished them well but hoped that they would leave the building soon.
** As of November 25, 2006 the university minimum wage was raised to $9.75 per hour.