RISD Technical Association, NEARI Local 806

The following is a point by point response to the RISD Administration’s assertions posted on the Academic Affairs website

We encourage the community to think about the following statement when considering their support but for those interested in a point by point rebuttal we have provided that on the following pages.

We want to be treated fairly. You, the students, are like us and will become us. We are trying to raise the bar on how employees are treated in arts organizations. If you see yourselves as someone who supports fairness and equal treatment; someone who resists the corporatization of higher education and the skyrocketing costs of the administration; someone who thinks the children of the employees should be treated equally; someone who thinks healthcare cost increases should be applied equally amongst all the employees; someone who respects the technicians and sees them as part of the educational mission, then you SUPPORT THE TECHNICIANS. Activate and make the administration hear your voice.

Our Rebuttal to the administration’s posting: Our responses are in r​ed.​

We have negotiated with the Technicians for many months in good faith, beginning in earnest in May of 2014.​

And unilaterally STOPPED negotiating in October of 2014.

We negotiated two tentative agreements with the Technicians’ bargaining team, one in October and one last week. A​“tentative agreement” is a written agreement negotiated by both the College’s and the Union’s bargaining team for new contract terms. Once ratified, or passed by a majority vote of the bargaining unit, a tentative agreement becomes a new contract.

A tentative agreement is just that: t​entative.​At the beginning of negotiations, both parties agreed and signed a document that stated any tentative agreement was tentative until ratified. This is customary in negotiations and is included in the ground rules.

Normally, tentative agreements reached between an employer and a union bargaining team are endorsed and supported by the respective teams and readily ratified by the bargaining unit. The parties trust each other to follow this process in order to reach finality. In this case, the bargaining unit voted not to ratify three times, twice on the first agreement and again last week, March 25th. This is unprecedented in negotiations.

Tentative agreements are frequently not ratified; this happened with the part­time faculty’s most recent contract. Unions are a democratic entity. Everyone has their say and can vote, unlike the administration, which is a top­down autocracy trying to impose its will.

The first agreements presented were essentially the same, with no meaningful changes, which is why they were rejected twice.

Our members did not ratify the tentative agreements because they did not think that they were fair. The college wanted to unjustifiably increase our contributions for healthcare, even though there was no increase in premiums from the insurer. This is simply a decrease in the wages of staff, so the meager wage increases proposed are far less than they appear to be.

Last November, the College believed that it had reached an impasse in negotiations and we implemented the new terms of employment that had already been tentatively accepted by the Union’s negotiating team. As a result, the Technicians are already receiving all of the benefits of that tentative agreement, including raises and lump sum payments in advance of the holiday season as well as increased tuition remission, increased professional development, and the

retention of existing benefits. The terms also include an increase in health care benefit contributions. As we know, every organization is facing tremendous pressure to contain health care costs. These new health care benefit contributions equally affect all RISD Staff.

Our position is that we had not reached impasse; the college simply wanted to implement the new healthcare contributions at any cost and saw this as the easiest way to do so without having to negotiate.

The new healthcare contributions do not affect all RISD staff equally. Those making over $150,000 saw NO increase in their contribution, and those making over $100,000 actually saw a DECREASE. So to say “equally affect all RISD Staff” is inaccurate.

Even following impasse, RISD has continued to meet with the Technicians through facilitated meetings with the Federal Mediator. As a result of these facilitated meetings, we have remained at impasse, but still managed to have good, specific dialog with the Union.

Yes, the college continued to meet when requested; they are bound by law to do so when a meeting is requested, as is the union. However, the college would not abandon their illegally and improperly declared position of impasse. They stated that they would only make revenue-neutral changes that would not cost the college any more money. So we have offered to accept their proposals, we have pre­ratified them with one revenue-neutral change, as they requested: simply that they add language to our contract that guarantees our retirement contribution. They have steadfastly refused this simple article that would not cost them any more and would have ended the strike immediately.

The Technicians have been inconsistent in communicating with the College about what additional terms would get a new contract ratified. At the last meeting with the federal mediator the Technicians asked for the 8% staff core retirement contribution written into a new collective bargaining agreement. The Union first made a proposal to this effect in August 2014, and the College rejected the proposal then.

We concur: the administration has been consistent in its refusal to negotiate any type of fair solution to retirement security for our members.

If we are inconsistent, it is because we had to keep whittling down our proposals in an effort to move negotiations forward, unlike the Administration who met every proposal with either an outright refusal or dogged adherence to their desired outcome.

We didn’t agree to writing the 8% into the contract, and the Technicians, through the Federal Mediator, told us that an in­person meeting with the President would suffice. The in­person meeting took place, and the President assured the Technicians that she doesn’t intend to change the retirement contribution.

The college OFFERED the in­person meeting as a possible solution. The union never indicated that it would suffice. The in­person meeting occurred, and the membership voted that they wanted the language in the contract; verbal assurances do not have a place in contract negotiations.

At the meeting with the President, the union bargaining team made a second request, to attach qualifying language to the 8% contribution, which would be applicable in the event of a financial emergency.

We concur: we understood that future flexibility might be beneficial to the college as a whole and offered to include language that would provide that flexibility in the event of an emergency. Another example of our willingness to negotiate in good faith ­ of course it was rejected, and is now presented as if we did something wrong.

In past times of economic hardship (2009), the Technicians have not shown a willingness to work with the College and remained firm on taking wage increases when other staff and faculty unions went without increases.

This is not true. In 2009, the RISDTA would agree to no raise if the college would guarantee there would be no layoffs within the union. They refused to guarantee no layoffs, and, when we stuck to our c​ontractually guaranteed ​wage increase, they unilaterally reduced our hours from 40 to 37.5. That was a 6.25% reduction in pay that took years to get back.

It is also of note that all the belt tightening that was required of everyone at RISD in 2009 was not applied equally. The CFO was awarded a $65,000 bonus and there was a budget surplus in 2009 according to the 990 IRS tax form.

As we explained to the bargaining team, we were not prepared to put that language in the collective bargaining agreement because it limits the College’s flexibility to adjust to economic pressures and this language does not exist in other collective bargaining agreements at RISD other than the full­time faculty contract. (It is important to note that the entire subject of the pension was withdrawn by the union’s bargaining team on August 1, 2014, and was not raised again in any way until last week.)

With the amount of compensation, benefits, and bonuses that the administration enjoys, perhaps this is an area they could investigate being reduced in response to economic pressures. Better yet, perhaps tuition could be controlled by addressing the spiraling administration costs. The faculty are employees; we are employees, so there are other employees that have the retirement percentages codified.

Additionally, the Technicians’ collective bargaining agreement already provides that we will notify the Technicians in advance of any contemplated benefits changes and meet with them at their request. This means that in the unlikely event of any future benefits changes, the Technicians will have an opportunity to provide the College with their input and feedback before any changes are made.

This is meaningless and offers us no protection. It simply allows us 60 days warning before they make unilateral changes. It has no requirement to negotiate.

The union leadership was unable to obtain ratification for the third time. This raises fair questions about the reliability of the negotiating process with this union, and whether it is possible to bring issues to finality.

The union leadership has bent over backwards for the administration; we have pre­ratified the implemented plan with one revenue-neutral condition. The college is still following the bad legal advice it paid $336,000 for to the infamous union­busting law firm, Ropes & Gray.

The college's goal is to peg all the unions to the staff handbook, with terms that “may change from time to time.” Language such as “may change from time to time” has no place in a contract. We are a union, not the non­unionized staff. You are negotiating with the technical union, NOT the rest of the non-unionized staff.​

We believe our technicians are compensated fairly and equitably.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Many staff, students and faculty think that executive pay is outrageous.

The average Tech hourly wage is $29.00 per hour, or $60,320 per year.

The average executive's pay is $107.96 per hour or $220,191.20 per year.

On an individual basis, Technicians are paid 17% over the average wage earned by their peers at other institutions, both inside and outside Higher Ed.

What peers? Are RISD's peers The University of Nova Scotia Academy of Art? The college's market analysis includes schools that are not RISD's peers, that are in another country altogether! HR does the market analysis. We have our own market analysis, which is not based on RISD's skewed analysis based on outdated, dumbed­down job descriptions.

This also ignores the fact that the more highly compensated technicians have been here for a very long time and their wages have grown with them. These are very skilled, experienced members of the community; perhaps HR would rather replace them with younger, less experienced employees for a lower wage but our union is protecting your right to have the best qualified most experienced instruction possible.

Many of our Technicians also teach in either Continuing Education or our degree programs and receive additional compensation for doing so. In fact, some of our Technicians have earned as much as $20,000 per year over their regular Technician salaries, with overtime and teaching compensation factored in.

Teaching is a separate entity from the technical union contract. It is not covered in our contract, as has been pointed out by the administration during negotiations, so why the college feels the need to bring this up is puzzling. When a technician is awarded a teaching contract, they are like any other adjunct faculty and are paid accordingly. Only about 1/3 of the tech union members teach.

Technicians pay health insurance contributions based only on their budgeted Technician salary, not their enhanced salary that includes money from teaching and overtime, but the College’s contribution to their retirement plan is based on their overall compensation.

We thank and commend them for adhering to the applicable laws and regulations in these matters.

While a strike is particularly disruptive for our students and affects the entire RISD community, we respect the Technicians’ right to strike, and our last offer remains on the table.