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MIT Jewish Students Sue Grad Student Union Over Forced Payment Of Dues Despite Religious Objections

By

Corey Walker

March 26, 2024

A group of Jewish graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a civil rights lawsuit against the graduate student union on Thursday, alleging discriminatory practices. 

The plaintiffs allege that union officials from the United Electrical Workers (UE) and MIT Graduate Students Union (GSU) are forcing them to pay dues against their will, according to a press release by the National Write to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The students, William Sussman, Joshua Fried, Avika Gordon, and Adina Bechhofer take issue with the union’s support of antisemitic political movements and campus activism, per the press release. 

The students issued individual letters arguing that the union’s support of movements such as Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions (BDS) alienated them. They claim that by refusing to allow them to skip payments, the union is failing to accommodate their “religious beliefs and cultural heritage.” 

The unions rejected the students’ request to be exempted from union dues, saying, “no principles, teachings or tenets of Judaism prohibit membership in or the payment of dues or fees to a labor union.”

Sussman asserted that Jewish students are a marginalized religious group and should not be mandated to pay dues to an organization with an antisemitic agenda, according to the organization. 

“Jewish graduate students are a minority. We cannot remove our union, and we cannot talk them out of their antisemitic position — we’ve tried,” Sussman said, “That is why many of us asked for a religious accommodation. But instead of respecting our rights, the union told me they understand my faith better than I do.”

The students argue that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandate that unions have carveouts for those who harbor religious disagreements. 

The National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, a legal defense group that advocates for workers against unions, says that if the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission confirms the merit of the students’ argument, they will assist them in seeking legal recourse. The organization says they will either issue the students a “right to sue” letter or sue the union themselves.

Since MIT has a contract with the union, they harbor a substantial degree of legal liability, the group argues. The group urges MIT President Sally Kornbluth to rectify the grievances of the Jewish grad students before the university finds itself embroiled in a lawsuit. 

Sussman penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal lambasting the union for partnership with the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), a group which encourages all union members to boycott Israel. 

Jewish graduate students are a minority at MIT. We can’t remove the GSU or disabuse it of its antisemitism. But we also can’t support an organization that actively works toward the eradication of the Jewish homeland, where I have family living now,” Sussman wrote. 

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