The University of Virginia will increase its minimum wage from $12.75 an hour to $15 an hour next year. The change will increase the pay of 1,400 full-time workers at the university’s school and hospital facilities.

The change will take effect Jan. 1. The decision, announced by President Jim Ryan in an email to university employees Thursday morning, came one week after a student rally and the release of a survey that highlighted the desire for better wages and conditions, as well as financial and institutional support for affordable housing, preschool through college education and equitable health care.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, really since the day I started,” Ryan said in an interview Thursday. “This will be the first of what I hope will be a number of examples of how we don’t just say we’ll work on something, we actually do something. For example, I hope that when we say we will take a look at affordable housing, people will know that we really are.”

According to the Community Working Group’s report, which accompanied survey results, UVa employees and contract workers would have to spend half of their wages to rent a two-bedroom apartment in the Charlottesville area. They also experience effective pay cuts when asked to pay for their own parking and increases in health care premiums, the survey said.

Erika Viccellio, a co-chair of the group, said she was pleased to see action on one of the working group’s recommendations so soon after its report was issued and after years of advocacy and study of the issue by various groups.

“The simple reality is that sometimes money is the quickest solution to problems people face on a day-to-day basis,” Viccellio said. “The underlying issues and inequalities are complex, and money isn’t a panacea, but it’s concrete and it’s doable.”

Current employees making $12.75 per hour will see an annual gross pay difference of $4,500. The change is expected to cost $3.5 million, according to information provided by university spokesman Wes Hester, and the difference will come from existing resources. The university will also spend $500,000 to adjust the salaries of employees currently making between $15 and $16.25 per hour.

The change applies only to direct employees at UVa, but Ryan said the university is also trying to increase pay for hundreds of full-time contract employees.

“Our plan is to negotiate toward a solution,” he said.

Ryan said his staff had worked on applying the wage increase to contracted employees, as well. However, when they realized negotiating existing agreements with contractors and subcontractors would take more time, the university decided to go ahead and announce the change to direct employees’ pay.

A fact sheet provided by Hester stated that the university hoped to have an update on contract employees’ wages this fall.

According to a living wage calculator published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the hourly rate an adult must earn in the Charlottesville area to pay for necessities is $12.36. An adult with one dependent must earn $27.20 per hour to make ends meet.

The student group Living Wage at UVa has asked for wages of $16.84 per hour.

After legislation mandating increased minimum wages passed in their campus’ cities, the University of Washington and the University of California raised their wages to at least $15 per hour. Duke University also raised its base pay this year to $15 per hour.

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Ruth Serven Smith is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7254, or @RuthServen on Twitter.

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