Post-CBA Graduate Student Unionization: Most Common Questions


Background Information

Where can I find background information on MIT graduate student unionization at MIT?

Who is included in the bargaining unit?
The bargaining unit certified by the National Labor Relations Board  (NLRB) includes graduate students enrolled in MIT degree programs who are employed to provide instructional or research services, namely RAs, TAs, and Instructor Gs  Students not included in the bargaining unit are undergraduate students; graduate student resident advisors; graduate fellows who are not also employed as either research assistants or teaching assistants; hourly graders who are not also employed as either research assistants or teaching assistants; graduate students not seeking MIT degrees, including visiting students; and office clericals, managers, guards, and supervisors as defined in the Act.

When was the contract between MIT and the MIT GSU ratified?
The MIT Graduate Student Union (GSU) voted to ratify a three-year contract with the Institute on September 22, 2023. The agreement is in effect from now through May 31, 2026.

What does the CBA cover?
The CBA covers the terms and conditions of employment for all individuals in the bargaining unit, regardless of whether they have elected to join the union.

What are some of the key elements in the Collective Bargaining Agreement?

1. Economics  

  • Yearly stipend increases of 5.4% (June 1, 2023), 3.5% (June 1, 2024), and 3.25% (June 1, 2025)

2. Grievance and arbitration of discrimination and harassment complaints 

  • Only available after completing internal MIT complaint processes. (In some cases, there is an option to move to arbitration after the internal complaint has been pending for 6-9 months.)
  • Provides an option for third party mediation throughout
  • 3. Membership dues/fees
  • All RAs, TAs and IGs are required to pay 1.44% of RA/TA/IG wages (~$700/year for full-time RA/TA)
  • All RAs, TAs and IGs can choose whether to be a member of the union

4. Academic and research continuity

  • No-strike clause in effect during the three year contract, which ends May 31, 2026.

What are some of the new / enhanced benefits for unit members?

  • Support for international employees: A one time $1,200 grant for fees and costs associated with their international status
  • Supplemental needs-based family grants
  • An 83.8% subsidy of individual dental care premium
  • Increased MBTA subsidy from 50% to 70%
  • Access to a vision plan

A full table of benefits is online.

Appointments and Compensation

What are the back pay, pay increases, and supplements graduate students have received?
For MIT graduate students with appointments/awards for the summer term (June 1, 2023 to August 31, 2023) and/or the fall term (September 1, 2023 to January 15, 2024):

  • Salaries associated with research assistantships, teaching assistantships, and instructor-G appointments were increased retroactively, effective June 1, 2023, by 5.4%.
  • Additional adjustments were made in a small number of cases to ensure these salaries fell within the applicable ranges in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MIT and the MIT GSU.
  • Although Fellows are not part of the bargaining unit, and therefore not covered by the CBA, MIT increased most fellowships by 0.15% (so that combined with the 5.25% award increase made on June 1, 2023 they now are 5.4% higher than last year). Some external fellowships have funding restrictions (e.g., National Science Foundation GRFP) and could not be increased. Please contact your department if your fellowship was not increased but you believe it should have been.

In addition:

  • Eligible international students on F or J visas, and registered as regular MIT students, should receive a one-time $1200 supplement. 

How can students check their funding status?
Current students may view and confirm their funding in the MIT Atlas app.

Many departments have significant overlap between RA research efforts and thesis research efforts, making it difficult to differentiate these in terms of a specific weekly schedule. What is the best way to clarify this?
Graduate students are both students with academic expectations to fulfill as well as employees with employee responsibilities to fulfill if on a RA/TA/IG appointment. The Committee on Graduate Programs (CGP) policies for academic and employment accounting provide helpful guidance and aim to create a common understanding of the expected time commitment for academic requirements and employment obligations of graduate students. This guidance explains the  system that accounts for academic and employment hours separately through subject unit registration and RA/TA/IG appointments.

Academic program requirements should not be included in the “required duties” or employment responsibilities in an appointment letter (for example, none of the following should be listed as required duties of RA or TAs: academic subjects to be taken; academic milestones like oral exams, thesis proposals, or committee meetings; and number of units for x.THG).

Academic expectations of all students (independent of appointment type) should be written on a lab or department web page; for example, “Students in the XXXX lab are generally expected to conduct research in person and establish a consistent schedule of about 8 hours a day M-F for spending time in the lab to promote teamwork, mentoring, and collaboration, which are important contributors to our research success. This time in the lab includes employment time as an RA and academic time devoted to thesis research.” The appointment letter can say, “RA employment responsibilities are generally expected to be completed during regular working hours.”

Other supervisors and labs may have no such expectation for in-person research, which can be stated their web page; for example, “Students in the YYYY research group are welcome to pursue their academic thesis research and RA duties in whatever time and place works best for them as long as they are making sufficient academic progress and are fulfilling their employment responsibilities,” (and as long as the location of the work is consistent with MIT’s remote appointment policies.

There are other common expectations that some labs might include in their general lab statement for all students (e.g., attending a weekly group seminar, good safety practices, helping others with experiments, etc.).  In addition to web pages and appointment letters, departments and programs may consider communicating this information in graduate student handbooks and orientations.

Can appointment types be changed in the middle of a term, or retroactively?
The Graduate Student Appointment Policies document provides guidance on appointment policies. Appointment and award types may not be changed retroactively, though a process exists to account for errors, changes to cost objects, and other appropriate adjustments (contact: Appointment/award types (i.e. RA, TA, or fellowship) can be changed mid-term, but can only impact future dates. If a new contract or grant is anticipated but has not arrived, and a student will be performing RA duties while the award remains pending, the student should be appointed in the interim as an RA on alternative funding such as a pending account, department payroll suspense, GIB, or discretionary resources. When the award is received, the cost object should be changed retroactively (subject to it being allowed by the terms of the award), but the appointment type cannot be changed retroactively. 

If an error has been made when an appointment was entered and it needs to be fixed, please reach out for guidance from as soon as possible. 

With the requirement that students receive an appointment letter at least 30 days prior to the start of the appointment, is it possible to hire an RA mid-semester? 
The 30-day appointment letter is intended to benefit students who typically rely upon Institute support, so they have time to find an appointment before the start of the new term.  

If you are posting for a vacancy and have a start date listed, you may require that the student accepting the position start on the posted date. If the appointment was not posted with a start date and you would like the position filled with less than 30 days’ notice, please reach out to for further guidance.   

What is considered best practice language for offer letters?
For offer letters, the section on OGE’s website about Funding and Compensation provides helpful language. In particular, see the RA/TA/IG Appointments page and the Awards page. For specific questions, or if you would like someone to review your letter, contact

What recourse is there if a student is not fulfilling their appointment duties?
When students are not fulfilling their employment duties, please contact for guidance on how to counsel the student and, if necessary, progress to warnings or further discipline. 

What should I do if I have additional questions about my obligations under the contact or if a student alleges I am violating the contract? 
Please contact If there is something a PI (or other supervisor) is doing/not doing that is in variance with the CBA, then we would also like to know about this so we can provide guidance on how to resolve the issue. 

Dues and Agency Fees

What are the basics of dues and agency fees?
The CBA covers the terms and conditions of employment for all individuals in the bargaining unit, including the requirement that unit members pay dues/fees. In particular, see the following sections: 

  • Article 2, Recognition, defines which positions are in the bargaining unit and covered by the CBA.
  • Article 3, Union Security and Check-Off, speaks to union dues and agency fees, and timelines.
  • Additionally, Section 4 addresses the union’s right to request a remedy in the event an individual does not pay union dues or agency fees.

The NLRB has also posted information regarding union dues, representational fees, and security agreements here.

How do those in the bargaining unit pay dues or agency fees? What happens if they do not pay them?
Students in the bargaining unit are required to pay either dues or agency fees as a condition of their appointment, regardless if they have personally elected to become a union member. They can meet this obligation either by paying union dues or agency fees directly to the GSU-UE or by authorizing deductions from their salary payments. If a student does not pay dues or fees for two appointment periods, then the union may request that the student’s RA, TA, IG appointment be ended one week early. Please reference the vice chancellor’s email on union dues and agency fees for further explanation.

Both agency fees and union dues are currently set at 1.44% of RA/TA salary payments. Agency fees and union dues are set by the union and are subject to change. Additionally, the union is responsible for calculating the cost of representational fees in accordance with the law. Please contact the union at to confirm the current rates.

MIT will not withhold union dues or agency fees from a student’s paycheck without their  authorization. Students on partial appointments (e.g. 50% fellowship award and 50% RA appointment) are responsible for dues/fees only on the RA/TA/IG part of the funding.

Students should reach out to the union at if they have additional questions concerning union dues, agency fees, the rights and responsibilities of union membership, or the authorization form for payroll deduction.

Leaves and Vacation

What are the new leave policies (sick time, vacation, medical leave, childbirth accommodation, etc.) for students who are in the GSU-UE?
A summary of leave policies for students in the GSU-UE, students on fellowships, and self-funded students are outlined in this table. For additional information, refer to the vice chancellor’s email explaining leaves policies.

Note that RAs, TAs and IGs are now required to formally request all leaves in advance, if possible and practicable, using the student appointment portal on the Atlas app. (Students on full fellowships should continue to arrange for flexibility and/or time away from academic responsibilities as they have done in the past by coordinating with their academic/research advisor.)

According to the collective bargaining agreement, RAs, TAs and IGs are entitled to 5 days of vacation per full appointment period. What happens if a student wants to travel home, for example, for more than 5 days?
Supervisors are not permitted to provide more vacation than what is allowed in the CBA. However, remote work for up to 30 days per full appointment period may be appropriate to accommodate a student’s needs (see the full MIT policy) and is at the discretion of the supervisor. It is important to note that supervisors are responsible for confirming the performance of any remote work. Any remote RA/TA work longer than 30 days needs advanced notice and formal Institute review and approval. More information is available in the MIT Remote Appointment Guidance document.

Do RAs, TAs, and Instructor Gs observe academic holidays and/or Institute Holidays?  
RAs, TAs, and Instructor Gs are generally relieved of their appointment responsibilities during Institute Holidays, including Winter Break. However, during a designated holiday, employees may be required to conduct work when determined to be necessary by their supervisor. The supervisor must discuss the necessity of such work with the employee in advance, unless such work is already specified in the appointment letter.

RAs, TAs, and Instructor Gs are not relieved of their appointment responsibilities during academic holidays that are not otherwise designated as Institute Holidays (such as Spring Break), unless they request and receive prior approval to take an appropriate form of leave (e.g., vacation). 


What is a union grievance?
A grievance is a dispute concerning an alleged violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Article 5 of the CBA details the grievance process. It can start with an informal meeting between the student and supervisor, and may include a union representative and someone from Labor Relations and/or a representative from the Institute who is familiar with the union contract administration. If the matter is not resolved, the union may use the formal grievance process. The union and students should only use the grievance process if there is an alleged contract violation. While a student may file a grievance with the union under a generalized complaint that they are being mistreated by an advisor, they will need to point to a specific contract term that is being violated. Examples include:

  • An advisor is requiring the student to perform tasks of a personal nature, in violation of Article 19, section 1.
  • An advisor is requiring the student to hold weekly office hours which puts them well over an average of 20 hours/week of work, in violation of Article 19, section 3.

In general, MIT should seek to address any concerns rather than advising students to file grievances; we do not need the union to file a grievance in order to make a correction.

Contact  or MIT Labor Relations if a student is claiming that an advisor is violating the contract; if a student asks to meet with you and their union representative; if you have questions about a contract provision; or if you want to discuss whether a student complaint may rise to the level of a contract violation.


Can union members / stewards communicate directly with students via a department listserv or other means? What contact information am I required to share with the union/union members?
All students, including those affiliated with the union, should follow the standard internal communication protocols of their department/program. While a student may be allowed to email directly with a group of students (via a listserv, etc.), such communications may be moderated and moderators may suggest edits prior to posting messages to their listserv.

All requests for student information, including contact information, must be routed to Labor Relations.

How should I, a supervisor of a graduate student or an administrator in a DLCI, interact with the union and union representatives? 
Please consult with or Labor Relations for guidance on these interactions.  

The union may approach you to resolve a concern or with an alleged contract violation. As part of the resolution process, the union may seek information for a particular student or students.  Generally, all Requests for Information (RFIs) submitted by the union to the Institute should be tracked and responded to centrally to ensure the Institute remains in compliance with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). If such a case arises, please direct the union to submit their request to or forward the request yourself.  

If a student requests a meeting with you and the union, or requests the union’s participation in a scheduled meeting, please reach out to or Labor Relations before the meeting.

If a student invites a union representative to a meeting unannounced, you may end the meeting and email labor relations about how to proceed.   

You may supervise RAs/TAs/IGs who also hold an elected position with the union. You should continue to interact with these students in their capacity as RAs/TAs/IGs as you have done in the past. 

Additional topics

Do graduate students get Workman’s Compensation as part of the CBA?
Workman’s Compensation (WC) is an entitlement arising out of state law, not the CBA. Thus, the terms of the CBA do not govern eligibility for the benefit; rather, state law governs eligibility.  Disputes concerning eligibility and WC benefits are not adjudicated via the grievance process.  However, individuals have the right to dispute claims through the State of Massachusetts’ Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA). In the CBA, the Institute agreed not to unreasonably delay the processing of workers’ compensation claims.  

The CBA requires RAs, TAs, and IGs who suffer an injury in the course of their employment to assist their supervisor in filing an incident report as soon as possible. The CBA also requires MIT to provide instructions on how to file a WC claim.