The Teamsters Local 251 union representing the Rhode Island School of Design’s 62 custodians, groundskeepers and movers unanimously voted to ratify a six-year contract with annual wage increases Tuesday afternoon, according to union representatives and an email to the school community from RISD President Crystal Williams.
The new six-year contract retroactively begins on July 1, 2022, leaving five years remaining on the agreement, according to Local 251 Business Agent Tony Suazo.
This agreement was preceded by an indefinite strike and picket line that began April 3. Representatives from the union and RISD first met April 13 to discuss a potential proposal and reached the tentative agreement Monday, The Herald previously reported.
Wages were the main emphasis of the demonstrations in the past few weeks, as the average hourly pay rate for union members was $16.74, according to Suazo. The ratification of the contract immediately raises the average rate of current employees to roughly $19.40, according to Suazo, and wages will continue to increase to a minimum of $20.20 for workers who have been employed at RISD for at least 12 months in July 2023.
Wages will increase annually through the end of the contract, and the agreement includes retroactive payments to workers at their current rate going back to October of last year.
The contract also includes parity language in its last two years, meaning that if other staff at RISD receive a raise larger than 2%, facilities workers will receive a raise at the same rate, according to Suazo. Employees who have been with RISD for more than 20 years will also receive a yearly longevity bonus.
Workers will return to work on Wednesday, according to Suazo.
Suazo and John Cabral, a RISD grounds caretaker, emphasized the significance of student, staff and community support as they went through contract negotiations.
This contract “would have never happened without the support from this community, especially the students. They really came through for us,” Cabral previously told The Herald. “This was as much of a victory for them as for us, and we'll never forget that.”
“There were some folks within the university that underestimated the will of the workers and the power of the students,” Suazo said.
RISD is now taking on the initiative to “increase wages for all of our non-temporary employees who make less than $17.52 per hour,” according to an April 13 email from Williams.
The administration will “soon begin speaking with the most impacted departments,” Williams wrote in the most recent email.
Additionally, Williams plans to convene “an advisory group to recommend immediate steps to help address and repair the fissures that the events of the last two weeks deepened and/or created.”
Ashley Cai is a Senior Staff Writer from Los Altos, California covering the staff and student labor beat. She is a Brown-RISD Dual Degree studying computer science, IAPA and graphic design. She is also a member of The Herald's Tech Team.