Implementing the collective bargaining agreement of the MIT Graduate Student Union: 3 questions

In April 2022, when graduate students at MIT were eligible to vote for union representation, it set in motion significant changes for graduate students at the Institute. The Graduate Student Union (GSU) will now represent and negotiate on behalf of approximately 3,500 research assistants, teaching assistants, and instructors-G. After extensive negotiations throughout the 2022-23 academic year, MIT ratified a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the GSU on Sept. 23, 2023. Ian A. Waitz, the Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate and Graduate Education, who played a key role in the negotiation process, provides details about the CBA and other support measures for graduate students.

Q: What are the main points of the CBA between MIT and the Graduate Student Union?

A: It’s important to note that the CBA covers the terms of employment for all grad student RAs, TAs, and instructor-Gs, whether or not they are union members. Key economic provisions include salary increases of 5.4 percent, 3.5 percent, and 3.25 percent over the three years of the contract, an 83.3 percent subsidy for dental care, increased MBTA subsidies, and grants to support specific groups of graduate students such as international students and those with families. The Office of Graduate Education has created a benefits table with further details.

The CBA also includes non-economic provisions such as a grievance and arbitration process and a no-strike clause. Additionally, the GSU will serve as an “agency shop,” meaning that all RAs, TAs, and instructor-Gs will pay 1.44 percent of their wages to the union, regardless of membership. More information can be found in the email sent to graduate students.

These are only a few of the highlights. Other important aspects of the CBA can be found in the Collective Bargaining Agreement [Touchstone authentication required]. MIT is committed to ensuring equity for students not in the bargaining unit, including those on fellowships, and providing them with stipends and benefits. The benefits table contains more information about the benefits available to students on different fellowships.

Q: What is involved in implementing the CBA, and how is the process going?

A: Implementation is a complex task, as the CBA consists of about 60 pages of commitments. Some changes, such as retroactive salary increases, may seem straightforward, but they involve processing 5,000 different appointments, each with unique characteristics. MIT also raised the stipends of most students on fellowships by 0.15 percent, ensuring equity with the bargaining unit. Other new benefits, like MBTA passes and dental insurance subsidies, require new policies and procedures.

There are also organizational challenges, such as managing graduate student appointments. Faculty and staff now need to provide more details about appointments, including required work hours and duties. Changes in appointment status must be carefully documented, as it determines whether a student is in the bargaining unit. Formal review processes for different types of leaves and outside professional activities are now required.

To address these changes, IS&T and the MIT CBA implementation team have launched a new system with appointment, supervisor, and administrator portals. Clearer expectations for academic work are being developed, and there will be a new graduate academic performance group to handle cases related to academic performance.

Implementing these changes is a challenge for a decentralized institution like MIT, but it will ultimately benefit all students and programs.

Q: In addition to the CBA, what other initiatives is MIT undertaking to support graduate students?

A: Graduate student professional development has been a priority for MIT. A committee made up of faculty, administrators, and PhD students is working on designing a professional development requirement for MIT PhDs. They are exploring ideas such as forming a committee of professional development mentors and providing internships as a development activity.

Career Advising & Professional Development has collaborated with partners to offer professional development certificate programs on research mentoring and grant writing training. These programs have received significant interest from PhDs and postdocs, highlighting the ongoing improvement in MIT’s professional development offerings.

Enhancing the life and learning experience for graduate students remains a key goal for MIT. The institution is adapting and responding to the changes brought about by unionization, with the support of campus partners, administrators, instructors, faculty, and staff.

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