State Watch

MIT graduate students move to unionize

Associated Press/Michael Dwyer

A majority of graduate employees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have agreed to unionize and are now asking the university to recognize the move.

About 5,000 graduate students at the Cambridge, Mass., university work throughout the institution’s research centers and various departments. For months, they have debated officially joining The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Graduate Student Union (MIT-GSU), backed by the United Electrical, Radio, & Machine Workers of America.

The MIT-GSU sent a letter to MIT President Leo Reif on Monday announcing the majority of graduate employees have signed union cards. The union is asking for official recognition so students can directly negotiate with university administration and improve “the state of our science and scientists.”

“The graduate student workers of MIT have spoken,” the letter reads. “Will you listen?”

In a statement provided to The Hill, the administration at MIT said they plan “to carefully consider the request and our leaders are focused on responding to that.”

Lucy Hu, a graduate employee working in medical device research, said workers wanted to unionize “because we are passionate about research and we are committed to securing working conditions that allow our research to thrive.”

“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,” she said in a statement released by the MIT-GSU.

MIT can recognize the union vote and call a third party to verify the results, or it can contest the union push, setting up another election with the oversight of the National Labor Relations Board.

If MIT formally adopts a union for its graduate employees, it would join other larger universities, including Harvard and Columbia, that have recently unionized following a 2016 NLRB ruling allowing graduate students to form a union.

Still, some graduate employees have opposed the push. In an October op-ed published through college newspaper The Tech, Kevin Wang argued full unionization, including a negotiated contract, would be lengthy. He also said unions don’t increase pay for student employees and that “MIT can improve the graduate student experience in more dimensions than a union can.”

“I strongly believe that graduate students have a voice at MIT. In recent years, the many holistic improvements that go beyond simple pay increases have proven that MIT will respond to important graduate student issues, if we present sufficient evidence of the need at hand,” he wrote. “Right now, we are very privileged to have an administration that wants us all to succeed. Let’s not lose this momentum.”

— Updated at 5:07 p.m.

Tags Cambridge graduate students Massachusetts Massachusetts Institute of Technology student employees unionization unions

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