MIT staff to be given ‘up to two hours’ of paid leave to vote

Staff petition to name Election Day a paid staff holiday

MIT staff members will receive “up to two hours” of paid leave to vote on or before Election Day, Vice President for Human Resources Ramona Allen wrote in an email to faculty and staff Oct. 6. The email was in response to a circulating petition requesting that Election Day, Nov. 3, be named as an Institute-wide paid staff holiday. 

The petition was started by the Committee for a Paid Election Holiday, a part of an organization called MIT Staff Against Racism.

Previously, the MIT Employee Policy Manual allowed staff members to request two hours of unpaid time for voting on Election Day. The petition writes that not providing paid time off “discourages workers from voting.” Furthermore, two hours “would barely be enough time for staff to vote in Kendall, let alone home districts farther away.” The manual was updated Oct. 5 to allow for up to two hours of paid leave. 

The petition points out that voting in-person on Election Day is a risk many voters will be forced to take “as they face drastically increased wait times due to shortages of poll workers.” The petition cites long wait times as “one of the many racist tactics used to disenfranchise black and brown people,” stating that it is therefore “especially important this year for those who are able, to not just show up to vote but to also help keep the wait times short and polls open for others by volunteering as poll workers.” 

The petition also writes that absentee voting is an unreliable option, citing “manipulation of the postal service, absentee ballot rejection, and selective absentee ballot mailing.” 

“Due to increased voter suppression and barriers to access, it is imperative that MIT, a leading institution and voice of progress, support full access to the polls. Critical shortages of poll workers, confusion and delays around absentee ballots, and the fear of contracting COVID-19 discourage already disenfranchised workers from exercising their democratic rights,” the petition writes.

Around 800 students, faculty, and staff have signed the petition, as of press time.

Allen wrote that while MIT is unable to name Election Day an official Institute holiday, the Employment Policy Manual has been amended to provide staff with up to two hours of paid leave for voting.

Allen said that the time may be used either for early voting or on Election Day. Employees “must request the time at least three days in advance” and “managers will approve requests where possible, but may deny requests when staff members are needed to maintain necessary campus operations.” 

Allen wrote in an email to The Tech that “in tandem with opportunities to vote prior to Election Day in person or by mail, or during early morning or evening voting hours on Election Day itself, we believe that this gives community members flexibility to vote without sacrificing compensation.” 

Allen explained that “more significant changes to Institute holidays cannot be considered in isolation of the academic calendar and overall schedule of holidays and paid time off.”

The Committee for a Paid Election Holiday wrote in an Oct. 8 email to faculty and staff, forwarded to The Tech, that they found “the proposal for two hours of paid time off to be inadequate.”

The committee wrote that “two hours is simply not enough time,” citing that many staff members living “far away from campus” would “not be able to fit travel and wait time into that window.”  The committee added that the letter “does not consider staff who live in states other than Massachusetts and might be subject to stricter voting laws.”

The committee also pointed out that the letter “urges, but does not require, supervisors to approve time off and be flexible with regards to scheduling. This policy does not protect staff whose supervisors would push back and offers no recourse. An institute-wide official holiday would protect the most vulnerable workers.”

President L. Rafael Reif wrote Sept. 21 in a letter to the MIT community that he hopes all MIT community members “able to vote will find a safe way to do so.” 

Reif added that community members can also “support voting and help ensure a safe and healthy election.” Community members can volunteer as poll workers and remind “the people around” them to vote, and students can also join MITVote, Reif wrote.

The committee referenced Reif’s letter, writing that “MIT staff must have a paid day off if the administration expects staff to take these sentiments to heart. Verbally encouraging participation but not providing the means to do so is an empty gesture.”

The committee acknowledged Allen’s response as “an encouraging signal that our message has been heard,” but that “there is still a lot of work to do and we will continue to push toward the goals outlined in our original petition.”