MIT-GSU discusses plans for graduate students post-contract ratification

Coppieters ‘t Wallant: “Most graduate workers at MIT pay, on average, 55 percent of their stipend to rent.”

In the fall of 2023, the MIT Graduate Student Union (GSU) successfully bargained for a new contract with MIT that entails many benefits to graduate students, including more vacation days and gender-equity. The GSU intends on using the momentum gained from the contract’s success to further prioritize the needs of graduate students.

Sophie Coppieters 't Wallant, a graduate student in Materials Science and Engineering and President of the GSU, and June Stenzel, a graduate student in AeroAstro and Campus Chief Steward of the GSU, discussed with The Tech their plans to make the new contract’s benefits more accessible.

Coppieters 't Wallant said, “One of the primary tasks in the few months since [ratifying the contract] has been implementing that contract” and “making sure that graduate workers can actually access all of the benefits we won.” They further said that the GSU protects these graduate student rights by “educating [their] membership” and then “working with people to fight for access to those [benefits].”

The ratified contract is historic as it was the first contract negotiated between the GSU and the Institute. Stenzel said that “the Graduate Student Union formed a couple of years ago in the spring of 2022, and that “[the GSU] had to build a lot of roads and break a lot of walls” since then.

“Between [the spring of 2022] and now, it was a long process of contract negotiations and putting pressure on MIT to sit down at the table with us and negotiate seriously over this contract,” Stenzel said. “This contract definitely represents, just by itself, a historic achievement for grad workers at MIT.”

However, the GSU representatives stated that they did not successfully bargain for all of the terms they asked for.

“There were things that we weren't able to win that we're committed to fighting for in the next few years leading up to our next contract fight, which will be in 2026,” Coppieters 't Wallant said. “We want to fight for increased rights for our international workers. I [also] think one of the main issues for graduate workers at MIT is the cost of housing; Cambridge and Boston are extremely expensive to live in.”

Coppieters 't Wallant added that “most graduate workers at MIT pay, on average, 55 percent of their stipend to rent,” so campaigning for affordable housing is of paramount importance to the GSU.

Furthermore, Stenzel noted that the GSU wanted to give international graduate students access to both Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT), but were not able to do so.

“[Accessing CPTs and OPTs would mean] the guaranteed right to be able to take internships as international students. That was something international workers on campus were really excited to see, and there was a lot of energy around [it].” Stenzel said. “One of the things we’re looking to do in advance of the next contract cycle is to build a lot of energy and momentum around that to make sure we can win it at the table, if not before.”

Another historic moment for the GSU was drafting a constitution after the contract ratification in the fall.

“Ratifying a constitution for the Graduate Student Union was a pretty fun, interesting process,” Stenzel explained. “I think figuring out how our democracy works, and how we strive to be a democratic representative body of the grad workers [is important], so writing a constitution and electing officers was a part of that process.”

The next contract ratification will begin in 2026 after the current contract expires on May 31, 2026.