News outlets across the country, including ESPN, The Nation, and the Chicago Sun Times, have been covering the Joseph Williams’ story – a University of Virginia football player who joined several other students on a hunger strike organized by the Living Wage Campaign.
Williams’ hunger strike protested the $7.25 hourly wage of some university employees. At the intersection of sports and politics, the story is about race and class, but it’s also about gender, an angle largely neglected in media coverage of the strike.
“As one of four children supported by a single mother, I have experienced many period of economic hardship in my life,” wrote Williams in an essay on reasons for striking. “On a personal level, this cause is one that hits very close to home.”
Williams specifically identified women and African Americans as most of the university employees affected by low wages, acknowledging one full-time female employee at the university who was unable to pay rent and forced to go without electricity for three months. When asked why it was important for him to take this stand, Williams named two women workers he knows personally who are “being marginalized and exploited.”
Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. A woman working full time at the federal minimum wage earns below the poverty line for a family of three.
In his “Why I’m hunger striking at UVA” essay, Williams focuses on how these workers do not receive enough pay for basic necessities in Charlottesville where he says the cost of living is 10 percent higher than the national average.
Since most minimum wage workers are women, increasing the minimum wage would help close the gender wage gap in which full-time working women are paid 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts receive. The wage gap is even greater for full-time working black women who receive only 62 cents for each dollar paid their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts.
“Hundreds of contract employees may make as little as $7.25 an hour, while six of the top 10 highest paid state employees in Virginia hold administrative positions at the university,” Williams wrote.
“This extreme inequality has disturbed and disillusioned students for decades,” wrote Williams about the university’s pay gap, “yet our pleas have been consistently ignored and workers are still paid unjust wages.”
The “Living Wage at UVA” campaign announced the end of its 13-day hunger strike Thursday, but remains optimistic in the students’ tireless efforts to raise the minimum wage.
“We are energized, we are organized, and we remain,” the campaign site notes, “hungry but hopeful for justice and a living wage.”