CNM workers outraged by withheld raises

Custodians and maintenance workers still haven’t seen raises required by law

By: - April 14, 2022 5:00 am

Communications Workers of America Local 7076 represents custodial workers at Central New Mexico Community College and the University of New Mexico, and the union has organized to end poverty wages at both schools. CWA members were present at a rally in December 2021 organized by a coalition of unions. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

Ray Montoya is a maintenance electrician at Central New Mexico Community College. He’s also a steward for the union that represents about 25 custodians, groundskeepers and maintenance staff at the school.

He said his fellow workers have been “courageous throughout this pandemic.” They show up even when it snows to make the campus safe for everyone else, he said.

“We have shown up, cleaned and maintained the CNM campuses while most employees got to work from home,” Montoya told the CNM Governing Board on Tuesday night. “We have risked our health, our families’ health, coming to work each day for CNM since the pandemic started.”

So when the college’s president in March announced 3% raises for everyone who works on campus, Montoya and other union members were outraged that they are not included, even though state lawmakers set aside money so that the raises would go to all public-sector workers in New Mexico.

Now, the union — the Communications Workers of America Local 7076 — is accusing the college of withholding the raises and planning to use them as a bargaining chip in upcoming contract negotiations. CNM denies this.

Raises signed into law

The New Mexico Legislature set aside more than $31.5 million to pay for a 3% raise for all state workers. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed them into law on March 9 as part of the state government’s annual budget. The law requires the raises to take effect in the pay period that started on April 1.

Tracy Hartzler, CNM’s president, wrote in a campus-wide email on March 29 that earlier that evening, the CNM Governing Board had held a special meeting to approve a 3% salary increase “for all employees not covered by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).”

“Our current Fiscal Year 2022 budget allocates funding to cover the same level of increases for faculty and staff covered by a CBA, but compensation increases for our union employees will be determined through the official negotiation process,” Hartzler wrote.

That vote took place without notice to any of the unions representing workers on campus or any attempt to broker a similar deal, according to an April 8 email from CWA District Organizing Coordinator Jana Smith-Carr to CNM Senior Human Resources Labor Relations Officer Tom Manning.

CNM notified the unions of the decision days before it was set to take effect and then rejected a proposal by CWA to broker a similar deal before April 1, Smith-Carr wrote. When CWA asked how quickly the proposal could be implemented, “CNM responds that it has no idea and cannot influence the ultimate decision-makers,” Smith-Carr wrote.

“Sounds like bad faith bargaining to me,” Smith-Carr wrote. Lawmakers had already set aside the money for the 3% raise, Smith-Carr wrote, “and in fact, CNM has begun spending that money on the employees who are not represented.”

Smith-Carr wrote that Manning “mentioned to our staff and members that you were holding back on the 3% for some kind of ‘leverage’ for FY 23 negotiations.”

“Holding back 3% which is already in the coffers of CNM is a special kind of cruel and I do not believe the citizens of New Mexico would expect that from this great institution who serves them,” Smith-Carr wrote.

Montoya brought the issue to the Board on Tuesday night during public comment.

“As union employees, the custodians, the groundskeepers, the maintenance staff are having the 3% pay increase withheld from them,” Montoya said. Since the pay increase was enacted by the Legislature, he said, it is separate from the collective bargaining agreement between the union and CNM.

“It should not be held as a bargaining tool or used as a tool to punish union members,” Montoya said. “Whatever the reason for this is, it’s not consistent with the values that CNM expects its employees to uphold.”

No one on the Board addressed comments from Montoya or two other union officials who spoke at the meeting.

In an emailed statement on Wednesday, CNM spokesperson Brad Moore denied that CNM is withholding the raise.

“Wages are not being withheld, but will be bargained as part of the negotiation process,” Moore wrote. “CNM is not refusing these raises.”

Moore wrote that wages are a mandatory subject of bargaining and that state labor law and the collective bargaining agreement between CNM and the union requires that wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment be negotiated before changes can be made to such an agreement.

‘Outrageous and downright cruel’

Union Steward David Young asked the board if CNM will “continue this nonsense” despite the governor signing the raises into law, and despite CNM’s own values.

He accused CNM of “bullying” the workers by trying to hold back the raises even though they are non-negotiable.

“CNM’s attempt to use this as leverage is outrageous and downright cruel to those who are amongst some of the lowest-paid CNM employees, while the highest-paid made sure they got theirs,” he said. “CNM has been given the opportunity by our union’s attempts to communicate to correct this matter. However, CNM has declined to do right by its employees, discriminating against members covered in the CBA.”

Young told the board on Tuesday that the raise is not part of negotiations.

“It does not fall under any of these guidelines and does not conflict with the items for that same reason,” Young said.

Milagro Padilla, a union district staff member, told the board the union was able to secure the raises for their members who work at the State Personnel Office, the University of New Mexico and Albuquerque Public Schools.

The community college “is the only institution in the state that we work with that refused to give that 3% to the workers who needed it the most,” Padilla said.

CNM custodians make just $11.50 per hour, Padilla said. That is less than 78% of the living wage for a single person in Bernalillo County, according to MIT.

“That’s less than $400 a week take-home,” Padilla said. “And you’re holding out 3% from them. It’s sad. These people need this raise desperately.”

Padilla said CNM has no leverage with a raise enacted by lawmakers.

“That is awful,” he told the board. “You should be ashamed for making that decision. I urge you: Do the right thing. Give these people who need it the most the raise that they deserve, that was legislated to them from their state representatives. Do better.”

Montoya told the board that it is unethical and uncaring to withhold a raise from the lowest-paid — yet most necessary — CNM employees “due to our union affiliation.”

“Is it really too much to ask to get the same 3% increase that the people we serve already have gotten?” Montoya asked.

In an interview Wednesday, Montoya said more people have been asking to join the union since the board meeting.

“We’re trying to get our membership up so that we have more power, because it feels like we got them on their heels,” he said. “I think we need to keep at it and keep our numbers going up, because it sounds like they’re shaking in their boots.”

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.