Students and faculty at RISD express support for groundskeepers, movers, and custodial staff on strike

Picketing in Providence

Students and faculty at RISD express support for groundskeepers, movers, and custodial staff on strike

Rhode Island School of Design (DanielPenfield/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Editor’s Note: As of Wednesday evening April 12 RISD announced discussions will continue tomorrow. In a statement the school said: “RISD is pleased to report we had productive meetings with union leaders today.”

It added “RISD President Crystal Williams has had meetings with students, faculty and staff throughout the week to listen to their concerns – many of which she shares.” AN will continue to follow this story.

Students and faculty at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) are expressing support for groundskeepers, movers, and custodial staff at the school picketing for fair wages. The staff are members of the General Teamsters Local 251 union. The organization represents 62 custodians, groundskeepers and movers at the Providence-based college. The union has been in negotiations with RISD since June 2022 concerning pay and has yet to reach an agreement.

In its demands the staff are asking for an increase in starting wages as well as a promise for a raise after 12 months of service. The RISD Board of Trustees and Administration have until April 12 to come to a resolution.

“It is abundantly clear that RISD executives are out of touch with reality and the struggles of working people,” said Matt Taibi, Local 251 Secretary-Treasurer and Teamsters Eastern Region International Vice President, in an Instagram post. “Our members do not want to strike, but RISD’s repeated refusal to bargain left them with no choice. We commend the workers on their determination and unity in fighting to secure a strong first contract.”


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A post shared by The Teamsters (@teamsters)

A student-led petition addressed to RISD President Crystal Williams, Members of the Administration, and the Board of Trustees circulating on stated that should the school fail “to respond to the Labor Union’s proposal with a legitimate response and offer to increase Custodial, Groundskeepers, Mover Union’s wage”, as indicated in a wage chart, the student body will walk out on April 14.

In its petition, which currently has 1,800 signatories, the student body said should the school not adhere to the union’s demands, they request “transcribed statements within the negotiation room of why the wages proposed by the Union have not been met (with concrete numbers and statements).”

Students signing the petition have reiterated their support with personal anecdotes. Some mentioned that late at night and early in the morning they see cleaners and other staff working to keep studio and classroom spaces tidy. Others have called out the school for condoning corporate greed.

Strike action has taken place in numerous locations across campus, including outside the school-issued residence of President Williams, as well as outside the Dependable & Affordable Cleaning building, the headquarters of an outside company contracted by RISD to do janitorial work around campus.


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A post shared by RISD ARCHITECTURE (@risdarch)

Yesterday the architecture faculty issued a statement of support that reads as follows:

The Architecture Department has come together to issue this joint statement of support for our custodians, groundskeepers, and movers:

We express our unequivocal support for the custodians, groundskeepers, and movers currently on strike for a fair, decent wage at RISD. As educators and practitioners, we are acutely aware that the maintenance of our physical spaces is vital to the everyday functioning of our institution and is also the physical manifestation of our collective value systems. We firmly believe that RISD must fairly compensate and support the people whose tireless labor makes our work fundamentally possible. Their labor must be valued, recognized, and celebrated.

When employers use standards of minimum rather than standards of care, today’s living wage is tomorrow’s living precarity. According to our shared 2030 mission statement, it is beholden on RISD not to simply teach social equity and inclusion, but to practice it.

RISD Landscape Architecture faculty echoed this sentiment with their own statement shared on Instagram. It in part reads:

We urge the administration to consider the toll that prolonging the negotiation process is having on every contingent of our community. Our ability to critically and creatively engage topics of sustainability, social and environmental justice, and diverse cultures, is compromised when any member of this institution is not paid a wage that allows them to sustain a living.


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A post shared by RISD Landscape (@risdlandscape)

Strike and union negotiations are also ongoing at other colleges, including at Rutgers and University of Michigan where faculty and graduate students are demanding contract renegotiation.