Results versus promises

March 15, 2022

Highlights

  • We share the goal of making MIT even better for you. Where we diverge with the UE and MIT GSU is on the best process for achieving our shared goals.
  • The decision you face in April is whether to exchange a process that has led to many gains for MIT graduate students with a new approach, rooted in labor bargaining.
  • There are limits in applying a labor relations process, which would involve only 54 percent of MIT graduate students, to make gains for all 7,000 graduate students across 108 MIT graduate programs.
  • MIT would continue to rely on our existing collaborative processes and would not negotiate with the UE on graduate student housing, curricular changes, and other subjects that are unrelated to students’ employment at MIT and also impact students outside the proposed bargaining unit.
  • Recent contracts negotiated by unions at Harvard and Columbia delivered no significant advances on graduate student housing, and minimal changes on issues affecting international students.
  • Last week we wrote about recent gains from our current collaborative process, without a union; below we describe the limitations of a labor relations approach; next week we will lay out potential downsides of unionization for MIT graduate students.
     

To MIT graduate students:

Next month, many of you will face the following question in a confidential election run by the National Labor Relations Board: “Do you wish to be represented by the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) for the purposes of collective bargaining?”

This campaign has underscored for us the challenges that some students face along their paths to an MIT degree. But listening to you, and learning from you, has also brought into sharp focus just how much we agree on: We agree that there are areas where MIT can and must improve, and we share the goal of making MIT even better for you. What we disagree with the UE and MIT Graduate Student Union (MIT GSU) on is the best process for achieving our shared goals.

Last week we wrote to share an overview of the successes won for all MIT graduate students through our work together in recent years — gains in crucial areas including stipends and financial support, health and wellness, and progress toward our shared desire to support international students and build a more diverse, supportive, and inclusive community.

The decision you will face in three weeks is whether to exchange the process that led to these improvements for a new approach, rooted in labor bargaining. But there are limits in applying a labor relations process, involving only 54 percent of our graduate students, to make gains for all 7,000 graduate students across 108 MIT graduate programs.

With the UE representing just a portion of our graduate students — and because labor bargaining is primarily about the terms and conditions of employment — the Institute would not negotiate with the UE on graduate student housing, curricular changes, and other subjects that are unrelated to students’ employment at MIT and also impact students outside the proposed bargaining unit. The UE and MIT GSU have made many of these issues central to their campaign, with promises on everything from affordable housing to expanded CPT opportunities for international students. But these issues are outside the bounds of what MIT believes that it could best address — or would be legally required to address — through collective bargaining with the UE.

Consider, too, what unions have achieved — and failed to achieve — at two peer institutions with graduate student unions: Harvard University and Columbia University. Graduate students at both universities ratified new union contracts in the past four months.

In both cases, unions made promises or demands on issues pertaining to graduate student housing and support for international students. But at both Harvard and Columbia, they made no significant gains on either issue.

We know that these topics are important to many of you. They are important to us too. That’s why we have existing pathways to advance them through the Graduate Housing Working Group and our Task Force 2021 plans for graduate student professional development enhancements. Both efforts have benefited from the substantive input of graduate students.

Make no mistake: We respect your right to decide whether unionization and affiliation with the UE is right for you. Take the time to learn about the issues at stake so that you are prepared to cast an informed vote on April 4 or 5. Critically assess our position — including our responses to recent claims made by union supporters — as well as those of the MIT graduate students who are opposed to the UE, and the members of the MIT Graduate Student Union, who are working with the UE. And compare the promises that are being made by the UE and MIT GSU with the actual results achieved at peer institutions with graduate student unions.

Every eligible student must make it a priority to vote on April 4 or 5. This election’s outcome will be determined by a simple majority of those who vote, but will be binding on all students in the proposed bargaining unit — including those who don’t vote, or who don’t want a union.

Sincerely,

Melissa Nobles
Chancellor

Ian A. Waitz
Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate and Graduate Education