WPI Emails

Administration’s EmailsWhat they leave out
“All graduate students receiving this notification have been deemed eligible to vote. With only one week until the election, I hope you will move quickly to investigate the issues that matter most to you. I encourage you to talk with each other, and with faculty, staff, and others, to look to the experiences of other institutions, and to consult press coverage and the academic literature to decide if unionization is in your best interests academically, financially, and personally. Graduate students are an important part of the WPI community, and we respect your right to consider unionization.”

Interim Provost Heinricher 10/26/2022
We have been looking at the experience of other student workers
At Clark university, they just got 20%+ in raises, near fully covered health insurance, and an hourly rate higher than most here at WPI, and we are next door! 

Additionally, student workers across the nation have been seeing standards consistently raise for decades with a union, won improvements to healthcare, reductions in healthcare costs, fee waivers, benefits to help graduate students with families cover the cost of health insurance, and more

This is a significant motivator behind a large majority of us supporting the union, with well over a majority of us being public!
“…Once a union is in place, it generally stays in place. I encourage every eligible graduate student worker to take the time to develop an  accurate understanding of union representation so you can cast an informed vote. More  information for the WPI community, and eligible graduate student voters in particular, can be found here.”

Interim Provost Heinricher 10/26/2022
Graduate workers across the US are unionizing because they are seeing consistent improvements through collective bargaining and having a direct say in their working conditions. 

The process for “removing a union” is very similar to the process for winning a union. Few do it because they have seen first hand the benefits of a union. 

But with well over a majority of student workers publicly supporting the union, and the ability to have democratic controls with our working conditions, the concern about removing a union (since we are the union) is irrelevant.
“This election will be determined by a simple majority of those who actually vote, not a majority of all who are eligible.”

Interim Provost Heinricher 10/26/2022
Part of an anti-union campaign is to differentiate union elections from other democratic elections. In fact, in any election or any democratic process, engaged participants and voters affect outcomes and set the agenda.  Language like “this election will affect you whether or not you vote” implies negative consequences, when a Yes vote really means setting up a union in which we vote on priorities, vote on a bargaining committee, and vote on a contract.

The reality is that more than 65 universities (and more every day!) across the country have unions where student workers democratically participate to improve their compensation and benefits.  We know the same will be true here at WPI. The decision we get to make with our election is simple: Should we have an equal voice in future decisions made here that will affect us? If the answer is yes, then a union is the way for us to have a direct voice in these decisions.
“A graduate student workers union would replace direct negotiations between the university—and faculty—and graduate student workers.”

Interim Provost Heinricher 10/26/2022
WPI currently holds exclusive, unilateral control over our pay, benefits and workplace rights.  Like most employers, they would probably prefer to retain that power.

Collective bargaining, on the other hand, is a process, protected by US law, that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. 

Graduate workers will be sitting across the table with WPI administrators to negotiate our union contract and we will all get to vote to accept or reject our contract. If the contract imposes limitations on our working conditions we do not like, we can vote it down. 

That means that if graduate workers wish to maintain specific current practices, such as negotiating over schedules with our PI, those practices can be maintained or even enshrined in our contract.  But, many of the decisions that affect us are not in the faculty’s hands and the WPI administration has failed to address them.

With a union, we will be able to sit down across from the administration and bargain for improvements to help address many of these outstanding concerns. 
Stipends“… At WPI, there has been a 2-3% annual increase in TA stipends, totaling an increase of more than $7,000 over the last ten years. (Due to the pandemic, in 2020 the university froze operating budgets, and there were no increases for faculty, staff, or graduate students.) In June 2022, a message was sent to graduate students about a 2% stipend increase for 2022-23.”

WPI’s Website on current issues
With collective bargaining, we can  improve standards for graduate workers.  WPI chose to not give us raises for years prior to our announcement of a majority in June 2022. Yet, within 40 minutes of our majority announcement, the WPI administration announced their first raises since 2019.

The lived experience of graduate workers is that pay increases here have not kept up with the costs of living, having to make cuts to budgets or building up debt while going to grad school. 

With a union, we can negotiate to raise standards for student workers to keep up with the rising costs of living and keep our focus on providing the highest quality research and teaching.  
“There is no way of knowing now whether or how current wages stipends might change as a result of collective bargaining. Bargaining does not necessarily begin with the status quo and go up. Graduate student workers may end up with more than what they currently have in some areas of wages, benefits and working conditions, the same as what they currently have, or less than what they currently have.“

WPI’s Website on current issues
We do know that in the last 3 years, the only raise we got was immediately after we announced a majority of support for our union in June.  Under collective bargaining,  graduate workers will elect representatives to negotiate on equal footing with the WPI administration and put the terms of our employment into a legally binding contract, and the graduate workers will vote to accept.  Graduate worker unions across the US have been negotiating to raise standards for student workers, and we will continue to build on their momentum. 

With unilateral control over our pay, since 2019 WPI has only raised salaries once (2%, after we announced our majority), despite significant increases in the cost of living.  With collective bargaining, WPI would be legally obligated to negotiate stipend rates with our elected bargaining team and we would vote democratically on the results of those negotiations. 

It is true that graduate workers could accept an agreement that reduced standards, but if they respect graduate workers and bargain in good faith (as they say they would), we are confident we will reach an agreement similar to the 100,000 other UAW academic workers across the US.

Noteworthy, until we vote to accept our union contract, WPI will also be unable to take anything away or make any changes without our consent without risking violating federal law.  
Employee discipline and grievance procedures are issues that may be discussed at the bargaining table if the WPI graduate students vote to unionize.  
However, many of WPI’s obligations to prevent and remedy harassment and discrimination are derived from federal and state laws, such as Title IX, Title VII, and Chapter 151B.  
WPI’s obligations under these laws, such as providing prompt and equitable resolution processes, are illegal subjects of bargaining.

WPI’s Website on current issues
The Title IX process is the minimum the administration is expected to do to ensure students are protected from harassment and discrimination, however the Title IX system has failed far too many to be considered acceptable, which is why at other universities, student workers have negotiated for better protections than Title IX provide, while also maintaining within the law. 
We understand it would be illegal to bargain less than what is required by Title IX, but student workers across the country have been negotiating for improved protections from harassment and discrimination for decades, and continuing to raise standards to ensure our most vulnerable members of our community are protected.