MIT graduate students vote to unionize, 66% in favor

Election comes after MIT declined to recognize union

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Graduate students line up outside Walker Memorial to cast their votes in the Graduate Student Union election, Monday.

MIT graduate students voted to unionize with the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), Chancellor Melissa Nobles and Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz announced in an email to the MIT community April 6.

75% of 3,823 eligible graduate students voted, with 1,785 students (66%) voting in favor of unionization and 912 students (34%) voting against, according to results announced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Elections were held on April 4–5 in Walker Memorial’s Morss Hall.

The MIT Graduate Student Union (GSU), the primary campaign organizers behind the path to unionization, also announced the win on Twitter. They noted that the “historic victory for student-workers at MIT” was by a “landslide margin” and officially renamed themselves as “MIT GSU-UE.” The GSU attached a photo of their first meeting four years ago where “a dozen students in an MIT classroom” were “discussing the needs of graduate workers.” 

The election comes after the GSU wrote a letter to the MIT administration asking to be “recognized voluntarily” as the “official bargaining representatives for graduate workers.” After the administration declined, the GSU wrote that “MIT administration hoped to delay our vote by triggering a lengthy legal process.” In response, the GSU agreed to begin a “two-step election process” to “receive recognition” at the NLRB. 

According to the GSU roadmap, the “organizing campaign does not ease up after an election victory.” The next step is to negotiate a contract, which is the “real goal of the campaign.” They wish to “secure a union contract,” which is a “document that the union and the employer negotiate and sign, covering everything from wages to how disputes will be handled.” 

Nobles and Waitz wrote in their email that they are “grateful to many members of our community on all sides of the debate” for engaging “constructively and respectfully in this conversation.” They were “heartened” by the “clear commitment to the well-being and success” of students. They also shared congratulations for members of the GSU for their “four years of dedicated work that culminated in this election.” 

They wrote that they agree there are “areas where MIT can improve,” and that they “share many of the same goals” as the GSU. According to the GSU’s website, these goals include “affordable housing, dental insurance, protections and benefits for international students, and fair and clear job expectations.” 

Nobles and Waitz wrote they expect MIT’s representatives to meet with MIT GSU and UE leaders to “begin good-faith negotiations” over “terms and conditions of employment.” 

They wrote that of the 12,000 MIT students (including those ineligible to vote), “less than a third” are represented by the union. They wrote the administration will “continue to uphold our responsibility to every student” and “work together” regardless of students’ union affiliation.

The UE wrote on a Facebook post that this was “one of the biggest NLRB elections in the past few years.” Ed Markey, the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, tweeted his congratulations to GSU workers who “jointed together for the rights and protections they deserve.” Bernie Sanders, the U.S. Senator from Vermont, also tweeted his congratulations, writing that he hopes “today’s victory inspires a nationwide movement of workers on campuses fighting for better pay.”