PROVIDENCE — The union for movers, custodians, and groundskeepers at Rhode Island School of Design voted Tuesday to ratify a new contract that amounts to 15-20 percent raises for all of its workers.
RISD spokesperson Danielle Mancuso said in an email that the “contract reflects and advances RISD’s commitment to social equity and inclusion.”
The union approved the contract unanimously Tuesday afternoon, Teamsters Local 251 union representative Tony Suazo said.
A video posted on Twitter by a union “member and contractor coordinator” showed Teamsters and RISD students who were invited to attend the ratification vote applauding the results.
“The support that was given is unbelievable,” Suazo said. “We couldn’t have reached the finish line without them.”
To thank them, the union asked key figures in the student protest to sit in on the ratification process, something that is rarely done. They were recognized by Teamsters and employees for the work they did, Suazo said.
Workers endured a two-week strike before a deal could be reached.
Negotiators began to encounter difficulty last fall when “economic issues” were raised.
Suazo said negotiations were based heavily on getting staff “living wages” for today’s economy.
The custodians, movers, and groundskeepers organized last winter, and this was their first contract negotiation. It is a six-year deal that is retroactive to Aug. 8, 2022. The majority of the staff will get a 15-20 percent wage increase by July, Suazo said.
Suazo said bargaining was sometimes “contentious,” and both sides “stood their ground” when they needed to.
Mancuso said in the email Tuesday that RISD is committed to taking immediate and long-term action to better embody our values and priorities concerning base wages for our lowest-paid employees. That work is underway.”
Mancuso told the Globe that President Crystal Williams and other school leaders were not available to do interviews on the recent strike or ratified contract.
Teamsters Local 251 represent 60 RISD workers.
Prior to Monday, the last time both sides met was April 13, when only one member of RISD’s negotiating team could attend due to “the short notice, conflicting schedules, and other factors,” Mancuso told the Globe in an email.
Hours after the results of the vote, students and staff began cleaning up strike-related sighs from campus buildings. One woman said she a custodian called her and said they would “clean up the mess.” But the woman said she wanted to help them out.
The signs and stickers, and some chalk drawings surround most of the campus facilities.
The boisterous strike had included drummers, chanters with bullhorns, and a giant balloon pig.
Sophomore August Ostrow said he was walking past the administration building when he saw a student talking down fliers and jumped in to help.
“This isn’t the easiest place to be a custodian, Ostrow said. It’s an art school so we make a big mess. ... I would imagine it’s going to affect our tuition prices. But they need to be paid what they deserve.”
A @RISD illustrator and students are outside One Washington Place removing strike-related flyers from the wall. One woman said custodians called to tell her that they would “clean up their mess.” But they came outside to pitch in. “We love our custodians,” she said. pic.twitter.com/2sOkwwpOxB— Carlos Munoz 📰 (@ReadCarlos) April 18, 2023
Ostrow was among the students who stood with strikers in solidarity. He said students could make the workers’ voices “a lot louder” by banging drums along with them.
Ostrow said that RISD hired contractors to assist with some of the basic cleaning services but some of the bathrooms were dirty. Ostrow’s dormitory bathtub has been clogged for two weeks.
“Trash has been a disaster,” he said. “Custodians do really important work.”
Students are hosting a community clean-up on Wednesday to remove some of the strike-related material.
This story has been updated with comments from Danielle Mancuso, associate director of public affairs for RISD.