Opinion open letter

Institute for Work and Employment Research faculty comment on potential graduate student unionization

Dear colleagues,

As faculty in the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER), we study a wide range of work and employment relations topics, including union management relations. We do not express a view on whether or not MIT graduate students should be represented by a union; that decision is theirs to make. However, we want to offer our perspective and some background information to the community.

It is vital that faculty, as well as the administration, respect the students’ right to decide whether or not to support unionization. Doing so will ensure that faculty-student relationships will not be adversely affected, regardless of the outcome of the organizing process. Concretely, we encourage our faculty colleagues to make it clear that they will continue to mentor, support, and work with students as TAs, RAs, and in all other capacities whether or not students are unionized and that the decision on unionization is the students’ to make.

Faculty and others may assume that union representation increases conflict, but productive labor management partnerships are possible. Indeed, our research group has studied them in other settings, and the MIT administration has a history of good relationships with represented employees and the unions of other occupational groups on campus. Should an election be held and result in union recognition, we hope and expect that all parties would pursue a collaborative relationship.

Finally, we encourage the administration and the student union to meet to discuss a protocol agreement governing the organizing process and potential first contract negotiations here at MIT. It is feasible to agree to ground rules and jointly commit to respectful communications. As just one example, the administration and union at Brown University agreed to ground rules for the organizing, election, and initial contract negotiation if the majority of students voted for the union. The Brown students did vote to unionize, and the parties then negotiated a contract without a strike. This example, as well as experiences in other public and private universities, offer a contrast to processes at Columbia, Yale, and Harvard, where communications were more adversarial, negotiations were protracted, and strikes occurred.

Whatever the outcome of this unionizing drive turns out to be, a thoughtful process and respectful interactions during this period are critical to avoid poisoning the atmosphere at MIT and to allow MIT to emerge as an even stronger institution.

Faculty in the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (listed in alphabetical order)
Emilio J. Castilla
Erin L. Kelly 
Thomas Kochan
Robert McKersie
Paul Osterman
Michael Piore
Anna Stansbury
Susan Silbey
Nathan Wilmers