An information site run by and for MIT graduate students.
We, the creators of this website do not here take a stance on the need for or validity of a graduate student union at MIT. We maintain only that joining the UE as a national is a dangerous and unnecessary choice for MIT graduate students. It is our objective to convince other graduate students to rescind or simply not sign UE union cards. Should you find the arguments presented here convincing you may rescind your union card by contacting a local rep directly. Regardless of your stance on the matter we hope this website and its associated mailing lists provide an open and honest opportunity to discuss the value of joining the UE.
If you have signed a membership card with the UE (through the GSU), by discussing this website with others or participating in the mailing lists, you may be participating in secession or raiding activities, as prohibited by Article 24, Section D of the UE national constitution. This can result in a union trial and possible expulsion from the UE.
The primary reasons given for aligning with the UE as a national union are financial. Creating a union has start-up costs such as legal defense for the right to unionize, legal counsel for initial contract bargaining and constitutional drafting, and experienced volunteers to aid in the organizing process.
While these costs do exist, we do not need to align with the UE (or any other national) to cover them.
As a UE local, we would pay a total of 1.44% of our salary in annual dues. Assuming 2000 work-hours per year at $20/hour, this comes to $576 per person, per year. Of this 1.65 hours per person per month go to the UE national, coming to $398 per person, per year ($178 stays in the local). There are approximately 7000 graduate students at MIT, and while not all are eligible to unionize (by virtue of paying tuition), it is reasonable to assume that an eventual graduate union at MIT would represent at least 5000 members. This comes to a total dues paid of $1.98 M/yr to the national, and $0.90 M/yr per year to the local.
Currently, the financial assistance provided by the UE consists of a few full-time organizer employees (less than 5), and a promise for future legal support.
Per Article 12 Section D of the UE national constitution, these field organizers are paid $1,185.16 per week. For 52 weeks and 5 organizers, this expense comes to $308,000.
Per NLRB reporting, the total legal expenditures of the UE National Union in 2018 came to $2.27 M.
$0.3 M + $2.27 M < $2.8 M
Our total dues in our first year would be more than sufficient to cover the entirety of the UE’s representational cost and the cost of their consultants. For a union of our size, there is no need for this financial support.
Furthermore, we can compare the value of our dues to the national to the total amount of money they bring in from dues in a year. Per their mandatory reporting to the Department of Labor, the UE National Headquarters brought in $4.35 M in dues. As a point of comparison we also include this theoretical population of 5000 MIT students to the ~35000 members of the UE.
To emphasize, this is not our total dues but only the fraction we would send to national. Clearly we would pay three times our fair share.
The UE has claimed that they could support us financially should further issues arise, such as docking of wages due to strikes. Full compensation for strike pay would be $20/hour * 8 hours/day * 5000 people = $0.8 M/day. Currently, the UE has minimal financial assets, totaling approximately $2.5 M. This means that financing a grad student strike at 100% strike pay would exhaust all available assets ($2.5 M) and yearly income from dues ($4.35 M) in 8.5 days. At a more moderate 20% strike pay (which would not be enough for students to pay for housing and other necessities), this would still only last 42 days. Graduate student strikes at other institutions have lasted longer, and we would be left completely unprotected.
The bottom line is, the UE cannot protect us in the event of a strike and that any strike funds which could support us would be made of almost entirely our own contributions.
Further enforcing this concern one can review the asset portfolio over the last 20 years. One can see an obvious liquidation of assets as neccessary to keep the organization afloat.
These data reinforce the idea that the UE needs MIT financially far more than we need them and their connections.
Although the UE claims that “the locals run the union” and seeks a more hands-off approach than many other national unions, they would hold significant financial power over an affiliated GSU as described above. As a result, it is a critical prerequisite for collaboration that they have our interests at heart.
Joining the UE commits us to their political platform.
Although the UE does not have political spending, they still hold a number of political views and encourage their locals to support them as well.
More importantly, Article 28 of the UE National Convention outlines that it is an obligation of members of the union to “bear true and faithful allegiance to the UE and will advance its programs and policies…”. By signing a union card and asking the UE to represent you, you also are blanketly agreeing to their policy.
These policies include a number of opinions and endorsements which run directly counter to the values of MIT graduate students:
Additionally, this has been a major problem in the advertising of the union as seen by a lack of transparency of GSU reps in reporting these obligations.
Many GSU reps have claimed that we would have the power as a local to advocate for policy more to our tastes. However, this stems from a misunderstanding of the UE voting system.
At the national convention, we would be limited to a maximum of 15 speaking delegates, while unions of only 30 members would still be eligible for a minimum of 3 (Article 22 Section F), this would significantly dilute our voice in discussions of policy.
Furthermore, although we would vote with our full membership strength, due to rounding up of smaller unions in determining voting strength, we would likely be disproportionately underrepresented, receiving less than our proportional 13% of the national union membership. The UE and the GSU have yet to answer our questions as to how these numbers work out in practice. Importantly, the UE National Convention specifies “The basis of representation shall be one vote for every one hundred members or major fraction thereof.” However, according to the data from the Department of Labor for local UE unions, the median union size is 50 members meaning that many small unions may be overrepresented. Here, we attempt to estimate the effect that such rounding would have on our ability to vote. This analysis is explicitly an approximation because the Deparment of Labor does not have data for all UE unions. If we assume that the distribution of sizes of unions reporting to the Deparment of Labor is accurate and that smaller unions are required to aggregate until they meet the “major fraction of 100” threshold we can see that.
This conservative analysis shows that there could be a 10% reduction in MIT’s voting power simply from the size distribution of local unions. This reduction is increased to 25% if one assumes that all local unions get at least one vote. Clearly the rounding which occurs throughout this process can significantly reduce on MIT’s voting power.
There is no need for us to bind ourselves to an organization that we would be financially supporting, but which would tie our hands in decisions of policy and actively seek to undermine research in various fields.
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