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UVA professor begins fundraiser for unemployed contract workers

When UVA abruptly closed its campus due to COVID-19, it left many contract workers unemployed. One professor has started a fundraiser to help them.
Updated: Apr. 2, 2020 at 6:16 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - When the University of Virginia closed its classrooms in early March due to COVID-19 concerns, it sent students and professors scrambling. It also left many workers employed by contractors at the university wondering what was coming next. The answer, for many, was unemployment.

In response, students and faculty at UVA are coming together to fill the financial gap. Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies, started a GoFundMe campaign for the workers.

“These are people who feed us every day," Vaidhyanathan said. “These are the people who keep us going, and give us a smile every day, who have asked about our kids, who ask about our lives. They are as much a part of the UVA community as any faculty member, staff member, or student.”

The campaign quickly drew the support of student activists like first-year student Zyahna Bryant. Bryant says that as a Charlottesville native, she recognizes many of the now-unemployed contract workers from off-Grounds. The workers provide more for students than the services they provide.

“Seeing these workers every day, knowing that they’re going to be there and greet us with a smile, it’s made my transition into UVA easier," Bryant explained.

Bryant also says that a portion of what she receives from the university in reimbursement for the move to distance learning will be allocated to helping the workers. Since she announced that, she has already been approached by others looking to help.

“Immediately, a professor came into my Twitter DMs and was like, ‘I will match whatever you donate,’" Bryant said. "I just think it was it was just really heartwarming to see students and faculty step up.”

Since Wednesday, when the campaign began, Vaidhyanathan has raised more than $17,000 for the workers. He says that, with a goal of $100,000, it’s just a start. He hopes that the university itself will get involved to take direct action.

“In the short term the university is going to have to recognize that has a moral obligation to the people who work at the university and help us," he said.

During its virtual town hall on Thursday, UVA Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Wagner Davis said that the university is in conversations with contractors about what is being done to make sure that contract employees are able to access unemployment benefits. In the short term some, like Aramark, have taken steps to extend medical benefits and offer packaged food for furloughed or laid-off employees, she noted. No mention was made of potential direct action being considered by the university.

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