Graduate Student Union bargains with MIT administration on discrimination and economic proposals

Negotiations between Graduate Student Union and MIT administration continue

The MIT Graduate Student Union (GSU) and MIT administration participated in six bargaining sessions in 2023. Issues debated ranged from discrimination and harassment services to safety and tuition.

The GSU is led by elected Bargaining Committees, which represent the union in bargaining sessions. The Bargaining Committees were also supported by the GSU’s Contract Action Team (CAT), who helped “build support and participation in collective action” by keeping “the campus informed throughout the bargaining process”.

The bargaining team for the MIT administration is led by senior academic leader Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz. Additional representatives included deans and senior leaders from the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response Office (IDHR), Environment, Health and Safety (EHS), and MIT Medical.

Feb. 17

The debate on Feb. 17 heavily focused on discrimination. Additional attending organizations included LGBTQ+ Grad at MIT, the Black Graduate Student Association, and the Latinx Graduate Student Association.

According to their website, the GSU argued that “the IDHR process isn’t supportive, is difficult to navigate, and that their members don’t trust MIT and IDHR to advocate for the truth.” 

To provide evidence of a lack of trust from graduate students, the GSU utilized data from the MIT AAU Campus Climate Survey. In particular, they highlighted the disparity between the number of graduate students who reported facing discrimination and the number of such students who sought help through IDHR. 

In their summary of the bargaining session, GSU wrote that “MIT’s response was inadequate and insulting.” The team was displeased with MIT’s failure to address non-disclosure agreements. Graduate students are currently required to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to file a harassment, discrimination, and bullying claim. 

The GSU bargaining team believes that these requirements may limit graduate students’ freedom to find help. In particular, they disagree with MIT’s claim that “it would be illegal for them to implement [union grievances procedure] for real recourse in parallel to existing IDHR mechanisms.”

“MIT owes us a response on this matter at our upcoming… bargaining session,” GSU wrote following the session. “After several months of negligence, it is past time to address this urgent issue.”

Chancellor Nobles and Provost Barnhart PhD ’88 responded by providing a summary of steps the Institute has taken in recent years, including “working directly with students and strengthen[ing] its discrimination and harassment policies and programs.” Nobles and Barnhart stated that these policies include investing additional resources in anti-retaliation policies.

When asked by The Tech about actions taken to improve the IDHR process, Nobles and Barnhart responded that MIT “has invested additional resources” into the Violence and Prevention Response (VPR) and IDHR offices, “refined anti-retaliation policies,” providing “guaranteed transitional funding” for students in unhealthy advising situations,” and offered additional “mentoring and harassment prevention training.

Another point for discussion was workplace safety and leave-of-absence policies. During the session, “MIT has agreed to significantly strengthen protections for workplace health and safety” and expand beyond basic guidelines offered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to GSU. 

“Health and safety is a huge success for us to highlight,” the GSU said.

The union also presented a consolidated article on Leaves of Absence which included “full pay and benefits for graduate workers taking medical and family leave.” Currently, graduate students on medical leave relinquish medical benefits and pay, which GSU argues undermines financial stability for students. 

Feb. 27

The discussion on discrimination continued during the Feb. 27 bargaining session. The MIT administration representatives were led by Mark C. DiVincenzo, head of the Office of the General Counsel. 

The GSU continued to push to allow graduate students to file union grievance procedures to report discrimination. Though MIT offered no counter-proposals on the nondiscrimination article, GSU hopes to see them in future sessions. 

Another discussion focused on Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) for international students. According to GSU’s bargaining survey, CPT/OPT access is the most important issue facing international workers, who consist of over 40% of our graduate workforce. As such, the team pushed for CPT/OPT to be implemented in all graduate programs, which MIT refuses to implement.

GSU proposed a set of economic proposals to the Institute built on the proposals the union had been working on since last year. The session also included thirty-three new economic proposals by GSU on issues including compensation, tuition, medical benefits, and commuting subsidies.

Future Sessions

Both GSU and MIT have stated that they hope to continue their work through bargaining proposals. 

In an email to The Tech, Nobles and Barnhart wrote that the “Institute’s bargaining team believes the negotiations are productive and collegial.” They also wish to “we want to find common ground on this critical and complex topic in subsequent bargaining sessions”.

The GSU stated that they hope to reach a tentative agreement with the MIT administration on “real recourse,” “international workers’ rights,” and “union shop.” Furthermore, they hope to see MIT provide a response to their economic proposals.