The University of Virginia announced Monday it is providing $3 million to assist contract employees and local residents left furloughed and financially strapped by state-ordered stay-at-home measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UVa President Jim Ryan announced that the university would set up a $2 million emergency assistance fund for contract employees and workers who have been furloughed.
The university also will provide $1 million to the Charlottesville Albemarle Community Foundation to support the foundation’s efforts to help area residents.
Ryan said that, while furloughed contract employees are eligible for unemployment and other programs, those benefits have not been quick enough to arrive.
“We have kept our employees on our payroll, and we will continue to do so for as long as we can. Some of our contractors, including Aramark, have furloughed their employees. More may do so in the future,” Ryan said in a letter to the university community at community at-large.
“These workers are entitled to state and federal unemployment benefits, as well as some benefits being offered directly by their employers,” he said. “It has become clear that these benefits are not flowing as quickly as any of us would like, and that our contract workers need immediate assistance.”
The call to aid contract employees, many of whom have worked for the university for years, comes after petitions and GoFundMes were set up to assist workers, who told C-Ville Weekly they received little communication or assistance after the university decided to shut its doors and move many classes and work online in order to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Aramark, the contractor named by Ryan in the letter, operates the university dining halls, stadium concessions and other services on Grounds. In January, contract employees were granted a $15 an hour wage as part of UVa’s effort to raise workers’ wages to a livable wage in the area.
But the SARS-Cov-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, put that effort down.
Aramark furloughed employees on March 18 and on April 1 told employees and investors that it would slash executive salaries and furlough other employees in the virus’ wake.
“In light of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Aramark’s business, on April 1, 2020, the Board of Directors of Aramark decided to temporarily reduce the salaries of certain of Aramark’s senior executives, including the named executive officers, by 25% and to temporarily reduce the cash retainer fee of the directors by 25%, in each case effective April 6, 2020,” the company’s April 1 8-K form filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission states.
Included in the filing is an April 1 letter from Aramark CEO John Zillmer that noted furloughed employees who are eligible for the company’s medical plan would remain eligible until June 30.
“It is an extraordinary time, full of uncertainty but we will get through it if we focus on moving forward together,” Zillmer wrote. “We have a solid balance sheet and believe that the strength of our customer relationships, combined with what we expect will be increased demand for quality and hygiene worldwide when normalcy returns, will enable us to come out of this with renewed purpose and resolve.”
Ryan said that while contract employees with Aramark and other businesses who have been furloughed qualify for several benefits, there is a gap between the amount of relief available through unemployment payments and “meeting the necessities of life.”
“Our own employees may also be facing unexpected costs due to the crisis we are all facing,” he said. “For these reasons, we are devoting $2 million to create an emergency assistance fund for UVa contract workers and employees.”
Ryan said that paying salaries or wages for those furloughed would make them ineligible for state and federal benefits.
“But we can provide funding to help meet an array of needs related to the crisis. Our primary focus will be to help those who have been furloughed, but this fund will also be available for those still employed and facing unexpected costs,” he said.
“We will also be providing assistance to furloughed contract workers who need help in applying for state and federal unemployment benefits, and we expect this fund to be a helpful bridge to those who are awaiting benefits,” he said. “We will keep this fund operational until June 1st, and we will reassess at that point.”
Ryan said the university would also support the community through the $1 million CACF donation.
CACF already has raised more than $2.3 million for that purpose, Ryan said.
“I am pleased to partner with the university during this crisis,” Brennan Gould, president and CEO of the community foundation, said in a statement. “While this health pandemic does not discriminate based on socioeconomic position, we do know that existing economic inequities position low-wage workers to be the most vulnerable to its financial consequences.”
Gould said she encourages contract workers at UVa and low-wage workers across the region to seek help by calling a community resource hotline at (434) 234-4490, weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m..
CACF has partnered with The United Way of Greater Charlottesville, Cville Community Cares, the city Charlottesville and Albemarle County to create the emergency fund. The fund was set up March 23 and some disbursements have been made.
Officials did not have an estimate how much money has been distributed.
“A core aspiration of our strategic plan is to be a university that is both great and good. Toward that end, we have committed to doing our best to be a good neighbor and to live our values,” Ryan said. “That means, among other things, doing what we can to support our most vulnerable community members.”
Details on accessing the money and how the funds will operate as well as other efforts by UVa are expected to be released later this week, Ryan said.
“We will have more to say later this week about additional steps we are going to take to support our community,” Ryan said. “We face challenges ahead. We will only get through them by working together and doing what we can to support each other.”