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MIT workers secure 10% pay raise

Pay bump comes after demonstrations

Anna Lamb
MIT workers secure 10% pay raise
SEUI 32BJ Executive Vice Pres. Roxana Rivera speaks during a rally at MIT. PHOTO: ANNA LAMB

Custodial staff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are celebrating this week after winning a new contract with the university that promises wage increases and bonuses for nearly 600 employees.

Represented by local 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU), members voted overwhelmingly last Thursday to ratify a three-year contract with the university that includes 10% across-the-board raises plus bonuses of $1,000. This contract win comes after months of bargaining and multiple contract extensions — the previous agreement was originally set to expire at the end of June.

SEIU members and university officials went back and forth, clashing most notably over an offer of a 1.5% raise if employees agreed to an additional term of increased drug testing. In response, union officials not only rejected the offer, but also organized a rally on campus in mid-September calling for a substantial increase with no strings attached.

The September rally was attended by SEIU members along with the Boston Democratic Socialists of America, members of the MIT Graduate Student Union and state Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge.

Decker spoke strongly against the drug policy at that rally, condemning the idea of punitive measures as a means to benefit the working class.

“If you care about substance use, then you do not penalize your workforce. You do not make it something that people have to be afraid of addressing,” she said.

Roxana Rivera, executive vice president of 32BJ SEIU, shared her gratitude for the solidarity in a statement after the win.

“We couldn’t have won this contract without the dedication of our MIT bargaining team. We’re also grateful to the graduate students, elected officials and other members of the Cambridge community who stood alongside us for strong standards,” she said.

The new wage increases won by the workers include an immediate 4% raise retroactive to July 1, 2022 and a one-time bonus of $1,000, followed by 3% raises on July 1 of 2023 and 2024.

“I feel really proud that I was part of putting this contract together in these tough times,” said Neil Cunningham, a carpenter and member of the bargaining team who’s worked at MIT for 33 years. “We stayed united, focused and resilient, and it’s paying off. I’m glad that, in the end, MIT treated us right and agreed to the raises and other provisions we need.”

The other major selling point repeated at the September rally was the university’s endowment, which grew nearly 50% over the last year to over $27 billion. Combined with 9% inflation across the country, union supporters made the case to MIT that the university could and should support its workers through hard economic times.

This is not the first win for custodial staff at a well-endowed university — in 2021, 32BJ helped Harvard’s custodial staff negotiate a four-year contract with more than 15% raises, and in 2018 the union rallied behind Boston University staff calling for health insurance benefits.

However, with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic still being felt, Rivera says more workers are demanding better treatment from their employers.

“Essential workers are refusing to back down on the wages and protections they need and deserve in the face of inflation, and on the heels of undue financial and personal hardship on the frontlines of COVID-19. I applaud MIT for listening in the end and agreeing to a strong contract, as they’ve done in the past,” she said.