Why graduate students should vote “yes”


  • MIT has offered increases in salaries, benefits, and other supports that keep our grad students among the very highest paid in the country.
  • MIT has offered independent arbitration as an appeal option for all complaints of harassment and discrimination, and independent mediation throughout the process.
  • MIT believes that its graduate students should not, as a condition of earning an MIT degree, be required to pay thousands of dollars to the national union.
  • Voting yes in the GSU’s upcoming vote would bring benefits immediately; voting no would mean a union-imposed delay on increased salaries and other gains for graduate students.

Dear students and colleagues,

This past Thursday, MIT and the Graduate Student Union (GSU) met for their 22nd and last scheduled bargaining session. Despite good-faith negotiation efforts by the Institute, the GSU bargaining team would not come down from an untenable 15.5% to 20.1% salary increase in just the first year of a contract.

Nevertheless, MIT put forward a comprehensive proposal, and our understanding is that the GSU will now put that package to a vote by graduate students.

As the vote approaches, we want to present the facts on the thoughtful offer MIT has put on the table, and to shed light on areas where we and the leaders of the GSU disagree — in particular, on the important matter of an open shop versus union shop.

MIT’s offer responds to students’ values and needs

In its communications, the GSU has not made clear the numerous ways in which MIT’s offer provides immediate and concrete gains for all 3,800 RAs, TAs, and Instructor-Gs in the bargaining unit (many of which also apply to grad students not in the bargaining unit). The MIT proposal responds to the values and needs we heard at the bargaining table, and includes among other things:

  • A 12.2% salary increase over three years: MIT has offered a 5.25% salary increase during the first year of the new contract, followed by 3.5% and 3.0% during the next two years of the contract. This would result in a compounded 12.2% increase over three years, and a four-year increase of 22%, including last year’s 8.7% gain. These are fair and financially sustainable levels for graduate students whose salaries are already second-highest in the nation.
  • Dedicated support for international students: A $1,200 payment to international graduate students to cover costs associated with their visas, as well as a new three-day immigration leave benefit for international graduate students who are required to attend certain hearings or appointments relating to their visa status.
  • Expanded support for graduate students with dependent children: An annual need-based family supplement of up to $10,000, in addition to MIT’s existing annual $6,500 to $8,500 need-blind family grants.
  • Added vacation time and sick time, and expanded paid and unpaid leaves of absence: An added five days of paid vacation time; added paid sick time; and significant expansions of childbirth and parental leave, as well as other family and medical leaves — all with tuition and health care coverage.
  • Dental and vision coverage: MIT will pay 75% of individual dental insurance premiums, and will offer a new vision insurance benefit.
  • Additional external recourse options on discrimination and harassment claims: MIT is offering independent arbitration as an appeal option for all claims of discrimination and harassment in the workplace, as well as an option for independent external mediation and the ability to have union representation at any time.
  • Grievance and arbitration for employment concerns: Protection for RAs and TAs in cases of discipline or termination of appointments, as well as a grievance and arbitration procedure for most cases involving alleged violations of the collective bargaining agreement.
  • Enhanced appointment security and appointment practices: Standardized appointment letters, as well as guaranteed reassignment or funding if a TA or RA appointment is canceled by MIT before the end of the appointment period.

More details on the MIT package are available at grad-union.mit.edu.

Where we remain apart – and why

Salaries: Despite MIT’s offer of a 12.2% salary increase over three years, and 22% over four years, the Institute and the GSU departed the bargaining table on May 4 far apart on salaries. The GSU ended still demanding increases of 15.5% to 20.1% in just the first year of a contract. This is far above what is sustainable, and would undermine our capacity to meet the needs of our entire community, both today and tomorrow.

But the Institute recognizes that not all student needs are the same. So, beyond salary raises for all graduate student workers, we have chosen to invest in additional cash assistance that addresses the unique needs of international students, students supporting dependent children, and those most in need. Since the Institute cannot responsibly meet all of the union’s financial demands, we believe this approach is the fairest and most efficient way to allocate resources.

Open shop versus union shop: We share the union’s view that this is an important question. The GSU has continued to insist on a union shop that would require all RAs, TAs, and Instructor-Gs to pay union dues or agency fees averaging $670 per year, or lose their appointments.

In contrast, MIT believes that graduate students should not, as a condition of earning an MIT degree, be required to pay thousands of dollars over the course of their studies to the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.

The GSU has framed this issue as one of “union security” — but this union is secure. Eligible graduate students voted last April to unionize, and only graduate students can now reverse that decision. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 graduate students nationwide — at institutions ranging from Harvard and Columbia to a wide range of public universities — are members of open shop unions. Many of MIT’s grad students have written to tell us that they do not share the GSU’s position and believe they should have a choice.

MIT has maintained that ongoing membership in the union is a choice that should be each student’s to make. If they support the union, they will be free to pay dues as members. If they do not support the union, they would opt out of dues payments but still be granted the rights and benefits of the union’s contract with MIT. The GSU says an open shop could divide students; our view is that it is no light matter for the Institute to bargain away a choice that belongs to each student.

A call to vote “yes” and enact progress

We remain committed to arriving at an agreement in May, and have put forward a fair package of economic and non-economic provisions. A “yes” vote on MIT’s offer means that we can move without further delay to implement pay increases, expanded grants, and other rights and benefits for our graduate students.

We urge the GSU and its members to act to conclude the negotiating process with a “yes” vote, and allow us to cement this progress so that our graduate student workers can continue their exceptional endeavors in an even more supportive environment.


Melissa Nobles

Cynthia Barnhart