Custodial staff, groundskeepers, and movers at the Rhode Island School of Design ended a two-week strike yesterday after union officials of Teamsters Local 251, which represents the workers, reached a tentative contract agreement with management. The six-year contract will be presented to union members this afternoon; if the majority vote to accept it, striking staff will return to work April 19.
“I believe that the group is going to be very happy with this agreement,” Local 251 business agent Tony Suazo told the Brown Daily Herald. “I believe that they got a lot of good things in it.” Said to be included in the agreement are retroactive payments. The school had previously offered a minimum hourly wage of $17.90, compared to the $20 minimum hourly wage the workers had asked for.
Suazo pointed to student and faculty involvement as a major driver in getting the deal done. Hundreds of students joined the picket line April 12, while the architecture, digital media, painting, and sculpture departments publicly announced their solidarity with the striking workers. As well, a number of professors held class outdoors or off campus in order to avoid crossing the picket line. The city council weighed in on the matter too, in an April 10 letter to to RISD president Crystal Williams and the school’s board. “Insisting on being paid a livable wage is not an excessive demand,” wrote the council members, “and we stand with these workers as they exercise their right to organize and strike.”
“We are truly grateful for all the help that we got during the two weeks that we were there from everybody, especially the students,” Suazo told the Herald. “There are not enough ‘thank you’s’ to go around. [This contract would have never happened without the support from this community, especially the students. They really came through for us,” he continued. “This was as much of a victory for them as for us, and we’ll never forget that.”