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RISD faculty agree to new contract, avoid strike

After seven months of negotiations, the faculty union at the Rhode Island School of Design voted Oct. 25 to ratify a new contract proposed by the school's administration.

The contract was brokered the night of Oct. 24. It includes pay raises of 4 percent annually, retroactive to July 1, according to union president Henry Ferreira, associate professor and head of RISD's printmaking department, who was quoted in an Oct. 25 Providence Journal article.

Some of the faculty involved said this year's re-negotiation was the most trying conflict between the faculty and the administration for many years.

"I have been here for 13 years," said a RISD professor who asked to remain anonymous, "and this (contract re-negotiation) was the worst by far in order of magnitude."

Faculty contracts are re-negotiated at RISD every three years. The last contract with the faculty formally ended June 30 but remained in place while negotiations continued.

The RISD faculty union began working toward a new contract in April after the part-time faculty union had undergone a similar process.

"We were warned by the part-time faculty that this was going to be a difficult process," said the anonymous RISD professor.

By Monday, Oct. 24, a faculty strike seemed imminent. Signs around campus announced that the decision to strike Wednesday would be determined by a vote of the faculty on Tuesday night.

Many of these signs encouraged RISD students to join with the faculty in the picket lines.

The RISD faculty union represents both the full-time RISD faculty and the school's librarians and is affiliated with Rhode Island's chapter of the National Education Association. The union's negotiation team featured six full-time faculty members and a representative from the NEA.

Opposite the table from the faculty's team was the administration's labor lawyer Diane Patrick, wife of Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick and an associate at the law firm Ropes & Gray, according to an Oct. 24 Journal article. A federal mediator oversaw meetings between Patrick and the faculty negotiating team.

Ann Hudner, RISD's director of external affairs, praised the dedication of both sides in the negotiation process.

"We feel quite positive about the outcome," Hudner wrote in an e-mail to The Herald, "and are grateful for the dedication and hard work demonstrated by both negotiating teams."

RISD students interviewed by The Herald said they are grateful the contract was resolved.

"No one (wanted) to go on strike," said Hayden Reilly, a RISD freshman. "The school would have shut down."

Sarah Rossi, a sophomore ceramics student at RISD, said a strike would have been terrible for the students.

"We as students miss out on class time, which affects the curriculum and the amount of work that we get done," she said.

The RISD faculty last went on strike in 1981.

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