MIT graduate employees announce majority support for unionization — will MIT commit to contract negotiations?

The following is a Dec. 13 press release from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Graduate Student Union.

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Today, graduate employees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) submitted a letter to President Rafael Reif announcing that an overwhelming majority of MIT’s 5,000 graduate employees have signed union authorization cards. Graduate employees work as teaching and research assistants, generating revenue for MIT through intellectual property, grants, teaching undergraduates, and collaborations with private enterprise. They are now requesting that President Reif voluntarily recognize their union and a commitment to establish and protect the working conditions necessary for world class science to flourish by addressing long-standing issues of workplace harassment, housing insecurity, and healthcare access. The MIT Graduate Student Union will be the single largest new private sector union in the country since 2018.

“A majority of MIT graduate employees have said yes to a union because we are passionate about research and we are committed to securing working conditions that allow our research to thrive” said MIT graduate employee Lucy Hu in Health Sciences & Technology, who works in medical device research. “We’re asking President Reif for voluntary recognition today in hopes that the MIT administration will respect the democratic will of graduate employees and come together to ensure all graduate workers can conduct their research in an environment that actually supports their fullest potential: a workplace where they are unburdened by  harassment, housing insecurity, or insufficient access to medical care.” 

If the Institute chooses to voluntarily recognize MIT GSU-UE, a third party will verify majority support for unionization through a card count. If the Institute does not choose to voluntarily recognize the union, graduate employees have the right to file for an NLRB election to secure union representation and a start to contract negotiations. As described in an open letter published November 9th by the faculty of the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER), the administration of Brown University negotiated a voluntary recognition agreement with their graduate employees and achieved a first contract without the strikes and workplace disruptions encountered at Harvard and Columbia. 

“I am inspired by the leadership shown by thousands of my colleagues this semester in coming together to form a union and make positive lasting improvements to the research conditions of the next generation of scientists” said Ki-Jana Carter, an MIT graduate employee who works on computational materials science research. “As we stated in our letter to President Reif, we want to invite the administration to the bargaining table not as adversaries but as allies in pursuit of knowledge and a better world.” 

MIT GSU is affiliated with the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, a national union representing over 35,000 workers in manufacturing, public sector, private-sector, and higher education. To arrange an interview with an MIT graduate employee please call Maddie Dery at 845-242-1115.

“I am inspired by the leadership shown by thousands of my colleagues this semester in coming together to form a union and make positive lasting improvements to the research conditions of the next generation of scientists.”

Ki-Jana Carter, MIT graduate employee

Below is the letter sent from the Graduate Student Union to MIT President L. Rafael Reif on Dec. 13.

President L. Rafael Reif,

We, the undersigned representatives of MITGSU-UE, write to inform you that the majority of graduate student workers employed by MIT have signed union authorization cards indicating our desire to be represented by the UE Union for purposes of collective bargaining. We are prepared to demonstrate majority support by submitting these cards to a mutually-agreeable neutral third party for verification. 

In signing these cards we are, as the MIT administration’s website states, “allowing the union to act as our exclusive representative for purposes of negotiating the terms and conditions of our roles.” This union of graduate student workers, empowered by the democratically expressed will of our members, requests that you voluntarily recognize us, meet us at the bargaining table, and begin the important work of improving the state of both science and scientists at MIT.

We invite you to the bargaining table not as adversaries but as allies in the pursuit of knowledge and a better world. We implore you to choose the path of collaboration over the path of conflict, and we eagerly await your decision by December 26, 2021.

The graduate student workers of MIT have spoken. Will you listen?


The Coordinating Committee

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Graduate Student Union

United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (MITGSU-UE)

Our readers can support the Union by following their social media and by making a donation. Learn more at MITSGU’s website. MIT Graduate Students can sign a union card here. If you are an affiliate of MIT and would like to show your support for the MITGSU, please consider signing the MIT Student Worker Alliance support letter.

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