Just the Facts... From the Technicians Union

Who we are: We are forty four women and men serving both academic and administrative departments. We are represented by NEARI Local 806. We serve in diverse roles across campus as studio and departmental technicians, academic technologists, instructional designers and IT support. We organized in 2007 amid concerns over a lack of wage increases for several years, inequality of pay across similar positions on campus and the continuing degradation of our role in the educational mission. Over 50 of our members hold degrees in art and design, and 50 are alumni of RISD. Most hold degrees and/or professional certifications in their fields, and maintain art and design practices.
Negotiations: The RISD Technical Association has been bargaining in good faith for over six months. The RISD TA membership has not ratified any contract with the school; the administration offered two proposals and we voted nearly unanimously to reject both offers. RISD has declared impasse in the negotiations. The administration has unilaterally implemented its “last best” offer. The TA union has filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the college this is the basis of the strike.

Health care: The technicians object to a raise in our healthcare premiums. RISD has proposed an increase for our members that would average 900 per member per year. Blue Cross Blue Shield is not raising premiums next year. Staff members making more than 100,000/year are not seeing any increase and some are seeing a decrease. There has been a lack of transparency from the administration on the reasoning for these increases and why some staff members are to be increased while others are not. The most senior administrators asserted a number of times in public forums that these increases were related to the Affordable Care Act or that “The slight changes...will better align RISD with the marketplace”. Finally, Jean Eddy, the COO admitted in a Staff Council meeting in early November that the impetus for the increased costs was really to balance the budget and avoid tuition increase. Avoiding a tuition increase is a noble goal but why put it on the back of the lowest earners? Straight answers and the truth from the administration are hard to find.

Retirement: We would like the amount RISD contributes to our retirement to return to the level it was at in 2009. RISD cut retirement contributions by 20 that year. This was portrayed as a temporary cut at the time to help the college weather the down economy. We have advocated for a return to the original contribution amount but the Administration responds, “No, we never intended on giving that back.” We have been open to compromise on this issue to no avail. Most recently we offered a compromise that we would avoid strike if the 8 where codified in our contract A NO COST SOLUTION TO THE STRIKE. RISD refused to negotiate on this item.

Wages: We are seeking annual wage increases in line with what the rest of the RISD community receives. RISD TA members endured a reduction in our hours to 37.5 per week, equivalent of a 7 pay decrease, from 2009 through 2012. We have received an average wage increase of about 2 per year since then. The average wage increase across other groups is 3.

Tuition Remission: Tuition remission is a benefit in higher education wherein the school reimburses employees for tuition costs for their children to attend other schools. We believe this benefit should be applied equally to all employees. Faculty and Exempt (executive and managerial) Staff receive up to 16,000 per child per year to attend other universities, an amount that increases every year as it is based on a percentage of RISD tuition. The RISD TA and other hourly (non-exempt) staff receive 2500 flat and this amount was only after years of activism. The tuition remission task force organized by HR found that no other Rhode Island college or university and no other ACAD school discriminates on the tuition benefit based on hourly vs managerial status. RISD is the only school the task force could find that discriminates in this way.

Corporatization of RISD:
The number of Executive/Managerial positions at RISD has skyrocketed 129 from 2003 through 2014. During that same time period Full Time faculty and technician positions have increased by 3 . Does this increase on Executive positions correspond with the number of students receiving an education here? No. All these new positions have to be paid for and if tuition isn’t going to pay for it then your health care contribution will have to.

We are told the budget is tight; we all have to tighten our belts. Well, all except the high earners that is. Top level administrators received over 3 MILLION DOLLARS in severance packages from 2006/2011, having enjoyed interest-free mortgages and cash in lieu of tuition remission during their short tenures at RISD. During past negotiations 300k+ was spent on union-busting legal fees and now there is a full time attorney on staff for this purpose.

How would a strike by the technicians affect the campus?

The Full Time and Part Time faculty are in the same union (NEA) and the members are protected legally from retaliation by the administration if they choose to honor the picket line and not teach their classes. The administration has pointed to a clause in the Faculty contracts that prohibits “joining a strike”. This is true, they cannot join our strike BUT they can refuse to cross the picket line without penalty. Many instructors have indicated they will support us and not cross the line.

Other unions enjoy this same protection and may choose not to cross a picket line. This includes the RISD facilities union members, RISD Museum guards, US Postal Service, UPS Drivers, Verizon Technicians, Teamsters delivering food and supplies to the college, trades working on campus, and public school teachers and bus drivers visiting the museum with their students. Any or all of these people may choose to honor a picket line and are protected legally in doing so.
While the technicians are fighting for specific benefits and protections in our contract we are also aware that we are on the front line in fighting the “Corporatization” of RISD. Many employees on our campus are not represented and fear speaking up about unfair treatment. We are here to give voice to all those seeking fair treatment.

March 31, 2015