RISD facilities staff hold one-day strike for better pay
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) facility staff, represented by Teamsters Local 251, held a one-day unfair labor practice strike on Thursday. Prior to the strike, Local 251 filed unfair labor practice charges against RISD for failing to pay a general wage increase and changing starting rates for workers without providing them with notice or an opportunity to bargain.
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) facility staff, represented by Teamsters Local 251, held a one-day unfair labor practice strike on Thursday, picketing outside various locations on RISD’s Providence campus. Prior to the strike, Local 251 filed unfair labor practice charges against RISD for failing to pay a general wage increase and changing starting rates for workers without providing them with notice or an opportunity to bargain. The facility staff unionized with the Teamsters in February 2022.
RISD’s facility staff work as custodians, caretakers, groundskeepers, and movers, and are supported by thousands of community members, students, faculty, and other workers, many of whom joined workers on the picket line Thursday, chanting, “15 bucks is not enough!” and cheering as drivers-by honked in solidarity.
“Basically it has to do with wages,” said Teamster Tony Suazo. “The school is claiming that we’re making unreasonable demands, which is not the case. The demands that we’re making seem high to the school because the group that we’re representing, folks like John, have been heavily neglected over the years when it comes to wage increases.”
“It hurts,” said John Cabral, who works at RISD. “And it’s about time that we catch up.”
“RISD workers are on strike today because they refuse to be treated like expendable labor,” said Matt Taibi, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 251 and Teamsters Eastern Region Vice President in a statement. “For months, RISD has refused to negotiate in good faith and deployed unlawful labor practices to stall negotiations. Our members play a critical role in keeping the college running smoothly and it’s time for RISD leadership to come to the table and offer the workers a strong first contract.”
Update: RISD released the following statement:
“General Teamsters Local 251, the union representing RISD’s movers, custodians and grounds services staff members, conducted a strike on March 23. The strike did not impact access to RISD buildings, resources or other elements of the RISD student experience.
“This was a tactic to pressure the college into an inequitable agreement. After several sessions with a federal mediator, the union received RISD’s last and best offer on February 16. It included RISD providing each member with retroactive payments back to last July – an average payment of $2,300 per employee. That payment was conditional on acceptance of RISD’s offer by March 1.
“The union did not respond to RISD’s offer by the March 1 deadline. On March 18, the union sent RISD a counter-proposal that included unreasonable demands related to benefits and excessive demands for compensation identical to previous proposals.
“RISD has been negotiating with the union since June 2022 to come to an agreement that provides our valued employees with wage increases while maintaining their benefits. The union has continued to demand benefits and wage increases that go well beyond what RISD considers fiscally responsible and deviates from RISD’s overall compensation philosophy, which seeks to maintain equity across the college.
“We are committed to bringing this matter to a successful conclusion. For that to happen, union leaders need to negotiate in a meaningful way so that together we can create a contract that fairly compensates our employees for their vital service in a fiscally responsible way.“
The college has an endowment of $440 million and an operating budget of $161 million. More than 2,100 community members, students, faculty, and other workers have shown support for the workers and their fight for a fair contract by sending letters to RISD President Crystal Williams and her cabinet members.
Teamsters Local 251 represents over 6,300 workers in a wide variety of industries throughout Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.