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April 23, 2007

Student Hunger Strike


A dozen students at the University of Vermont are on a hunger strike.The students say they will starve themselves until the school pays its employees a livable wage.

Over the last two years, the students have held protests, sit-ins, and mobilized petitions to get more money for UVM's lowest paid workers. They say the hunger strike, which began Monday morning, is a last resort.

"We are going to be starving ourselves," said UVM student Sam Maron.

The students staged the hunger strike outside the Waterman building on the UVM campus. The group calls itself the Student Labor Action Project, or SLAP, which advocates for labor union issues and pushes for higher wages for UVM employees.

"It's unfortunate that we need to do a hunger strike to win these basic requests," said Maron. "We feel like we haven't got any concrete movement to a real livable wage."

The students define a livable wage as $13.62 an hour and say 250 employees don't make that.  Until they do, the students won't eat.  Just water, tea and juices will be consumed. Their last meals were Monday morning.

"No nutritional supplements and no smoothies.  It is a fast," said Maron.

"We are obviously very concerned," said UVM Spokesman Enrique Corredera.

UVM President Dan Fogel's office is inside Waterman. The students want the administration's attention and they're getting it.

"We are concerned about our students health and well being," said Corredera.  "A hunger strike is a serious action."

But UVM does not plan to renegotiate contracts and says its workers are well compensated.

"The window for opportunity for revisiting that is closed for the time being," said Corredera.  "We also compared our compensation package to other institutions and we have a competitive starting wage for an institution of our type. We hope they will reconsider this action."

UVM's administration says they have listened to the students' concerns in the past and will continue to do so when the time comes to renegotiate contracts.

But university officials say this is the wrong way to solve their differences and they plan to offer health and counseling services to the students who have given up food for now.

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