Most graduate students at MIT have signed cards in support of forming a union, according to campus organizers.
The group wants MIT administrators to voluntarily recognize the union, rather than contesting the matter and forcing an election. In a statement, a spokesperson for the institute said they will “carefully consider” the request.
If certified, the union would represent over 5,000 students who teach, conduct research in the institute’s labs and perform other work on the Cambridge campus.
Ki-Jana Carter — a fifth-year doctoral student in the institute’s material-sciences department — said the union drive arose from years of pushing for access to affordable mental health care and diversity protections.
“Graduate student-workers at MIT are a very diverse group — lots are parents, a whole lot are international students,” he said. But he said they share at least one “big unifying issue”: the cost of housing in or near the campus’s booming Kendall Square hub.
With stipends ranging from $3,200 to $3,600 a month, Carter argued, many MIT graduate students living nearby face a "severe rent burden," defined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development as spending at least half of their income on housing.
Carter said that students spend “a lot of hours — 30, 40 hours a week or more — in the lab, grading, or preparing materials for lectures. We’re generating a lot of value for the university,” Carter said. “We’re all very happy to do it … but this is a job, and we need support.”
Since 2018, graduate students at Brandeis, Tufts and Harvard have formed unions using a similar argument — though typically not without a fight. Efforts at Boston University and Boston College still haven’t yielded a first contract, despite years of organizing.
In an open letter published last month, several MIT faculty called for their institution to take a more “collaborative” approach to their grad students, though they stopped short of endorsing the union drive.
Carter said he hopes MIT administrators will proceed with voluntary recognition, but he acknowledged that the move would be unusual.
“We’re all just hopeful that MIT will be a leader,” he said.
If they don’t, he said, the group believes it can win an election.