‘Not at finish line, but better’: RISD strike moves toward resolution

By: - April 14, 2023 4:54 pm
A protestor leads a chant amid Wednesday's RISD protest.

A protestor leads a chant amid Wednesday’s RISD protest. (Photo by Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

PROVIDENCE – Officials from General Teamsters Local 251 and Rhode Island School of Design have confirmed positive movement toward the resolution of a two-week old strike, with both sides saying they will return to the negotiating table Monday.

Rhode Island School of Design spokeswoman Jaime Marland said in an email Thursday night that the school had “a very productive meeting” Thursday with the union leadership earlier in the day.

“We presented a proposal that is very much in line with what the bargaining unit has expressed would be a fair and reasonable resolution to this negotiation,” Marland said.

Local 251 Business Agent Tony Suazo was brief but optimistic in his comments.

“We had talks yesterday,” he said in a text message Friday. “Some movement was made.”

“They made a proposal better than their ‘last, best and final’. Not at finish line, but better.”

Pro-union signs plaster a RISD building.
Pro-union signs plaster a RISD building. (Photo by Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

The strike by the union representing 62 custodians, groundskeepers, and movers, began on April 3 after months of negotiations to raise wages to $20 an hour failed. The workers make between $15 and $17 an hour.

Initially, the school said it would not budge and that a wage increase for the workers would be “fiscally irresponsible.”

“RISD has been negotiating with the General Teamsters Local 251, the union representing our movers, custodians and grounds services staff members, since June 2022 to come to an agreement that provides our valued employees with wage increases while maintaining their benefits,” Marland said in a statement the first week of the strike. “The burden is on the union to engage in reasonable discussions about wages and benefits.” 

Apart from concerns over wages, workers said working conditions and management’s treatment of employees also motivated the strike.

“What I’m hearing from the other buildings, the way they’re being treated is not right,” Maria Andrade, a custodian at the school for 11 years, said earlier in the strike. “What I do have is a lot to say about the pay.”

The movement came two days after a walkout by students and faculty in solidarity with the striking workers.

The Rhode Island School of Design was established in 1877 and currently has 2,620 enrolled. Annual tuition at the institution is $58,690.


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Kevin G. Andrade
Kevin G. Andrade

Kevin G. Andrade previously covered education, housing and human services for Rhode Island Current.