Update on graduate student unionization

October 3, 2022
Melissa Nobles, Chancellor | Cynthia Barnhart, Provost |

Dear colleagues and students,

Last week, the MIT Graduate Student Union and United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (MIT GSU-UE) filed a new petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In the petition, the MIT GSU-UE seeks to add graduate students on MIT fellowships to their current bargaining unit. (These are fellowship students who do not also have partial research assistant (RA), teaching assistant (TA), or Instructor G appointments.)

The Institute maintains, as it did this past spring, that these graduate student fellows are students only – not employees – and therefore are not eligible to be in the MIT GSU-UE’s collective bargaining unit.

This is because students who are on MIT fellowships receive financial support to pursue their academic programs. Unlike students on RA or TA appointments, fellows are not required to perform specific work or services, or work on specific research projects, as a condition of receiving their awards. Rather, they receive their financial support so long as they continue to make satisfactory academic progress. This means they are not employees under federal labor laws. This distinction between RAs/TAs and fellows also exists within federal research administration requirements, immigration regulations, and federal taxation rules.

We understand the MIT GSU-UE disagrees; this is why the NLRB has been asked to decide this issue.

We encourage you to read MIT’s full position on this matter. You will see we also have concerns that including fellows in the bargaining unit may lead to a loss of some important flexibilities that currently come with fellowships: more flexible treatment under federal immigration rules, more flexibility in research opportunities, and more flexibility during transitional funding periods.

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While the NLRB holds hearings with officials from MIT and the MIT GSU-UE in order to address the question about fellows – a process that could take months – we remain committed to negotiating in good faith with the union over the terms and conditions of employment for student workers currently in the bargaining unit (RAs, TAs, and Instructor Gs). As we said last month before these negotiations began, we are hopeful that the road to a first contract will be as smooth and efficient as possible.

Please direct any questions to gradunionquestions@mit.edu.


Melissa Nobles

Cynthia Barnhart