MIT refuses to recognize Graduate Student Union without an independent election

GSU: administration’s excluding ‘graduate workers funded by fellowships’ made it ‘impossible to reach an agreement’

MIT will not recognize a graduate student union without an independent election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), MIT Chancellor Melissa Nobles and Provost Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’88 wrote in a letter to MIT graduate students Feb. 1. Nobles and Schmidt shared the update with the MIT community at large in an email later the same day.

Nobles and Schmidt wrote that “all eligible graduate students” will have the opportunity to vote. The NLRB has not yet scheduled a date for the election.

The MIT Graduate Student Union (GSU) announced that a majority of MIT’s graduate student-workers had signed union authorization cards in a press release on the GSU website Dec. 13. The press release stated that “graduate employees submitted a letter” to MIT President Rafael Reif requesting that he “voluntarily recognize their union” the same day. 

The GSU announced that they “filed thousands of union cards” with the NLRB to initiate the union election process in a press release Feb. 1, the same day Nobles and Schmidt sent emails to graduate students and the MIT community.

MIT declined the GSU’s request for voluntary recognition in January 2021. The GSU’s Dec. 13 press release stated that in this situation, graduate student-workers “have the right to file for an NLRB election to secure union representation and a start to contract negotiations.”

Voluntary recognition of the union by MIT would have been followed by a verification of majority support for unionization through a third-party card count. The process would not have included an election.

The GSU spent January “working to collaborate with the MIT administration” over the terms of the union election instead of “filing with the NLRB the moment that voluntary recognition was off the table,” stating that they “wanted to give MIT admin the chance to show leadership.”

The GSU stated that “the MIT administration has insisted on excluding graduate workers funded by fellowships” from the union, making it “impossible to reach an agreement.”

In their email to graduate students, Nobles and Schmidt said that “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.”

Nobles and Schmidt wrote that they wanted “to share MIT’s senior leaders’ perspective on graduate student unionization” and “highlight what’s at stake in this election,” describing voting as “critical.”

Nobles and Schmidt proceeded to present their reasons for believing “that MIT’s long-standing partnership with graduate students is a better path forward than unionization.”

In both their email to graduate students and their email to the MIT community, Nobles and Schmidt shared the website In their email to graduate students, Nobles and Schmidt noted that all “graduate students should cast an informed vote after considering both sides in this debate and visiting”

The menu includes a “student voices” tab, linked to an FAQ page titled “Student concerns about unionization.” In response to the question, “What have students said in opposition to the current unionization effort?,” the page features three op-eds published in The Tech between Oct. 6 and Nov. 3, 2021.

The Tech has published eight other student-written op-eds on the topic of graduate student unionization that are not featured on These articles speak favorably of unionization and the GSU.