Art School(ed): Tech union strike tomorrow, some RISD classes held off-site

Tomorrow, the Rhode Island School of Design technicians will go on strike after months of contract negotiations with the school’s administration.

The RISD technicians serve as an invaluable resource for the school: these men and women teach courses and maintain the studios and shops throughout campus. As they go on strike, most of the facilities on campus will be deemed unsafe and consequently shut down, including kilns, wood shops, metal shops, glass blowing furnaces, darkrooms, and cages where students check out various equipment like tripods, cameras and recording devices.

The RISD Technician Union has outlined its contractual requests on their website. In short, the techs would like a restoration of retirement contributions (which were cut significantly in 2009 due to the economic recession), annual wage increases similar to those of RISD faculty members, and external tuition remission (a reimbursement of employees’ children’s higher education tuition costs if their child attends a school other than RISD). Additionally, the techs object to a raise in their healthcare premiums. To read the union’s request in full, click here.

In an e-mail to the school’s student body, RISD’s chief operating officer Jean Eddy and interim provost Pradeep Sharma wrote:

This strike comes after many months of negotiations that have been facilitated in part by a federal mediator, a neutral third party who helps ensure that all concerns are heard and addressed. In a process like this, representatives of a union and the College reach an agreement for a new contract, which the union’s members vote to ratify. Once the union’s representatives and the College agree to the terms of a contract, it is extremely rare for the union’s members to vote against it. In RISD’s negotiations with the technicians, this has happened three times. Even more troubling is that the technicians have been inconsistent about the terms they are seeking when communicating with the College.

All of the agreements included a pay increase each year of the contract, as well as benefits that match what is received by other RISD staff employees. In addition, the technicians received an increase to their professional development fund and an increase to external tuition remission. Technicians, like all full-time faculty and staff, are eligible for 100 percent internal tuition remission.

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Classes that rely on these facilities will likely remain cancelled until the strike is over. Although the Office of the Provost encourages faculty to go about business as usual, many classes will be held off-site tomorrow in order to avoid crossing the picket line and indicating a lack of support for the union.

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