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:
I’m not about to call the recent BDS demonstrations by concerned undergraduates sanctimonious; it is my heartfelt belief that those protesting genuinely care about the many individuals who tirelessly serve us. Begrudgingly, I even stood through one of their jejune man-puppet displays on my way to a Ratty dinner.
But I also understand the difficult decision of the folks holding the purse strings, the ever-lambasted Brown Corporation. Every financial determination they must make is a tradeoff – some must lose so that others may subsist. In this case, the Corporation has proposed a “sliding scale” to determine BDS workers’ health care premiums. (Interestingly, this scheme is similar to the US progressive tax system, something many SDS and SLA members, I imagine, would support.) The university also plans on refashioning the retirement benefits for new hires and is considering a wage freeze.
I would like here to offer a solution to this current predicament. I mean this without a drop of Swiftian satire: Brown should simply institute a tuition hike.
Why can’t undergraduates, quite literally, put their money where their mouth is? If they so ardently care about the plight of BDS workers, they will have no hesitation in coughing up a few extra grand a semester to offset the cost of lower healthcare premiums and increased wages. But if you feel the same moral confusion that I do when considering this dilemma, perhaps you can begin to sympathize with the tough, inevitably unpopular decision the Corporation must make. The protests so far have been useful, but keep in mind the underlying tension of the Corporation’s decision as you march your man-puppet across the Main Green. In the end, you may get more than you bargained for.
Anthony Badami ’11