Yesterday, after nearly two weeks of demonstrations, Teamsters Local 251—the union representing custodians, groundskeepers, and movers at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) picketing for higher wages—reached an agreement with school officials. An email from the school stated: “Rhode Island School of Design is pleased to report our movers, custodians and grounds services staff members voted to accept our proposal today (4/18), and we have completed the formal process of ratifying their contract.”
Under the terms of the new six-year contract, union members will receive higher pay. The wage increases detailed in the contract have already started as the contract is retroactive to July 1, 2022. The hourly wage amount for staff is dependent on their position and whether the staff member has licensure. The increases amount to 15 to 20 percent raises in pay. Workers who have been employed at RISD for a minimum of one year will earn over $20 an hour by July 1, 2023.
Throughout the length of the six-year contract, employee wages will continue to go up. According to Local 251 Business Agent Tony Suazo, the contract also states that in its two final years should other staff at RISD receive a raise greater than 2 percent, the facilities workers will also receive a raise at the same rate. Additionally, employees who have worked at the school for over 20 years will receive an annual bonus for their service.
The statement from the school’s communications department added: “The contract reflects and advances RISD’s commitment to social equity and inclusion. Further, RISD is committed to taking immediate and long-term action to better embody our values and priorities concerning base wages for our lowest paid employees. That work is underway.”
The agreement follows a series of negotiation sessions with school officials that began on April 13. Prior to these meetings, union workers, joined by faculty and staff, demonstrated across campus to demand wage increases. Picketing activities included a gathering outside the RISD president’s house accompanied by an inflatable “greedy pig”, a student-led Change.org petition threatening a walk out on April 14 if the school didn’t reply to the union’s proposal, and statements from faculty departments including architecture and landscape. (The student walk out was avoided when negotiations began April 12.) Union demands for higher pay at RISD date back to June 2022.
In an interview on April 17 with The Brown Daily Herald, Suazo said: “We are truly grateful for all the help that we got during the two weeks that we were there from everybody, especially the students. There are not enough ‘thank you’s’ to go around.”
Suazo added that the contract “would have never happened without the support from this community, especially the students. They really came through for us. This was as much of a victory for them as for us, and we’ll never forget that.”
Staff on strike will return to work today, April 19.