PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Dozens of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) students joined employees represented by General Teamsters Local 251 on Friday as the union continued its strike over “unfair labor practices.”
The union, which represents 62 custodians, groundskeepers and movers at RISD, has been in the process of negotiating a contract with the school since June 2022.
The two sides met again Thursday with a federal mediator, but failed to come to an agreement on wages for workers.
“We believe these folks deserve a living wage,” said Tony Suazo with Teamsters Local 251. “That’s where we’re apart right now. Everything else in the contract is pretty much wrapped up. It’s just wages right now.”
“They get $16, $15 depending on what the position is,” RISD student body president Santiago Alvarado added. “[We all pay] $80,000 [for tuition] and they can’t pay their workers right. It’s embarrassing.”
Students tell 12 News it’s the bare minimum for them to join the Teamsters members in protest.
“We see them every morning we wake up,” RISD senior Aliyah Nadal said. “We finish the night with them in the studios. They do everything to make sure we stay clean and safe within our art spaces.”
A spokesperson for RISD told 12 News the school sent the union a “fair and fiscally responsible” offer on Feb. 16, which included “wage increases for all bargaining unit positions and maintained a generous benefit plan.”
The school said the union responded with unrealistic demands.
“Once again, the union made demands for wages that demonstrated an unwillingness to have reasonable discussions with the goal of reaching agreement,” the spokesperson said, referring to Thursday’s meeting. “This process and their approach continues to be a disservice to both our valued employees and the individuals the union purports to represent.”
Suazo said members plan to continue striking until the two sides can come to an agreement. There’s no set date for when the next meeting will take place.