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Update: Casting an informed vote on graduate student unionization

  • MIT has declined a request to recognize a graduate student union without an election: “All eligible students should have the chance to choose for themselves.”
  • Institute senior leaders do not believe a graduate student union will produce better, or quicker, outcomes for students: “Promises about what collective bargaining can deliver have been overstated.”
  • At MIT, we solve problems best together, and our longstanding model for working with graduate students is collaborative, dynamic, and effective.
  • All graduate students should cast an informed vote after considering both sides in this debate and visiting

February 01, 2022

To MIT graduate students,

As you have likely heard, some MIT graduate students are seeking to form a union affiliated with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). Union organizers have now filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), requesting an election to determine if eligible graduate students will be represented by a union.

Last month, the Institute declined the UE’s request to recognize such a union without an election. MIT’s senior leaders believe that all eligible students should have the chance to choose for themselves, through an independent election, whether unionization is in their best interests.

In recent months, the UE has shared its views via social media, press releases, and op-eds — but no one can make an informed choice having heard only one side. We write to you now to share MIT’s senior leaders’ perspective on graduate student unionization; highlight what’s at stake in this election; and to convey why, when the time comes, it’s critical that you vote.

Making an informed choice

Here are a few of the most important reasons why we believe that MIT’s longstanding partnership with graduate students is a better path forward than unionization:

  • As students attending MIT to learn and to earn a graduate degree, your connection to the Institute is broader than an employee/employer relationship. But beyond wages, benefits, hours, and other straightforward terms and conditions of employment, there are many issues that collective bargaining is not well-suited to resolve.Unfortunately, promises about what collective bargaining can deliver have been overstated and the burdens you could face if the union is successful have been understated: a bureaucratic, lengthy labor bargaining process; the potential cost of dues; and the detrimental effect that strikes and other disruptions may have on your learning and research.At MIT, we solve problems best together, and our longstanding model for working with graduate students is collaborative, dynamic, and effective. Your seat at the table is established and secure, and yields real results — on issues including stipends, student support, medical benefits, immigration matters, transitional funding, and fostering a more inclusive, supportive, and diverse community.This existing structure serves all graduate students, and reflects the fact that your connections with MIT are nuanced, varied, and in most cases, exceptionally rewarding. It also provides more flexibility than a union could in responding to graduate students’ varied needs across an institution as diverse as ours.
  • Finally, once installed, labor unions are essentially permanent. Unions do not stand for re-election. This is not an experiment: When you cast your vote, you are making a choice not only on behalf of current students, but also the many thousands of graduate students who will succeed you over the decades.

Building a better MIT together

Like every institution, MIT will always have room for improvement. Those of us who have devoted our lives to MIT, and to making it a place of excellence and belonging for generations of our students, are deeply aware that we must always strive to do better.

While we acknowledge that there is always more to be done, we are proud of the significant progress we have made in recent years, thanks to our collaboration with graduate student leaders. We have serious concerns that a graduate student union aligned with the UE will not be able to build on these successes and produce better outcomes for you.

Those of us who lead MIT are personally invested in your success — and having been graduate students ourselves, we understand the challenges you face. No matter the election outcome, we will continue to work alongside you both to help you succeed academically and to make MIT better for all of our students.

We will have more to say in the coming weeks, and we will share details about how you can vote once the NLRB has set the election. As a starting point, though, we encourage you to visit, and to discuss this very important decision with your fellow students. There is much for you to consider, and a lot is riding on your decision.


Melissa Nobles

Martin A. Schmidt