UNM grad worker union rallies for rights on first day of school

Bargaining process stalled in fight for non-discrimination clause

By: - August 23, 2022 5:05 am

Graduate student workers walk across campus at a rally held on Monday at UNM. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

The start of a new school year at the University of New Mexico welcomed students back with in-person classes, social events and the graduate student worker’s union rallying for their rights. 

Contract negotiations have been going on since May, but grad workers wanted to remind administration about their cause.

At least a hundred workers representing the United Graduate Workers (UGW-UE) showed up to the event on Monday to give speeches and told personal stories explaining why the union is essential. They took their message all over campus, shouting union slogans and chants.

“We want to show the university that the semester doesn’t start until we show up,” said Duncan McGraw, union treasurer and bargaining committee representative.

In December 2021, the graduate union won the right to demand that UNM bargain with them. They’ve held four bargaining sessions since May, McGraw said, but continue to struggle to secure all the rights they’re demanding. Alana Bock, union organizer and grad student, said the union hopes to wrap up a contract by the end of fall. 

Once signed, it goes into effect immediately

Topics brought to the table

So far, the union and university have discussed points like contract information, timelines and protections for discharge and discipline, Bock said. She said they’re close to an agreement on a grievance procedure regarding how grad workers can remedy unfair working conditions and expect to talk about pay in the coming months.

The grad workers marched throughout campus, starting at the UNM Bookstore and making a stop at the Office of Graduate Studies. Leadership in the office made the decision to halt some of the workers’ pay raises due to the ongoing contract negotiations. Many grad workers voiced their frustration by comparing their income to the six-figure salaries held by upper-level university staff, like university president Garnett Stokes or provost James Holloway.

“From my time on the bargaining committee, it’s clear that UNM admin has no respect for the labor we do or the essential services we provide,” McGraw told the crowd.

The walk ended at the Office for Academic Personnel, where grad worker Elle Hermann delivered timesheets on behalf of the union to show hours worked before the semester even started. Many timesheets logged over 20 hours, Hermann pointed out, which goes beyond the typical workload for UNM grad employment.

“This is the year that the tide turns, where many of us can’t afford another year of poverty wages and minimal protections, all while dealing with pandemics, wars, climate collapse and a fascist settler colonial state,” McGraw called to the crowd. “This is the time to demand that UNM give us the bare minimum of a living wage and safe working environments, and we will win.”

Union treasurer Duncan McGraw speaks to a crowd of graduate student workers at a union rally at UNM on Monday. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

This effort goes beyond the grad worker union, too, many organizers pointed out. Hermann told the crowd that this is about workplace democracy for all unions on campus, who should have a say considering all the work that they do.

“I’m not going to be satisfied until we have a fair say in what goes on at this workplace. I’m not going to be satisfied until we have real power,” Hermann said. “I’m not going to be satisfied until we win that battle.”

Stalled for a non-discrimination clause

The union is pushing for legal protections against discrimination, McGraw said, but the university doesn’t want to agree to the union’s non-discrimination clause. Bock said that this kind of article is standard across contracts and allows a grievance procedure in the event of discrimination. It should be in not only their contract, she said, but other contracts across campus.

“UNM has worked really hard to squelch employee rights,” Bock said, “and so we’re trying to set a standard for better non-discrimination protections for us, and then hopefully for contracts that follow.”

UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair said via email the university is committed to promptly resolving discrimination complaints through the federal and state laws that are already in place.

“Any UNM student who feels that their rights have been violated has a wide array of options to seek redress, both informally and formally, and is highly encouraged to do so,” she said.

But McGraw said the university’s discrimination prevention measures are ineffective. “We need something, a grievance procedure that’s actually able to address our members’ concerns.”

The reason the university doesn’t want to include the clause is because it’s not in other contracts already on campus, McGraw said. The union wants to change that standard across the board.

“We want to see the direction of UNM fundamentally change as a result of these negotiations and future negotiations,” McGraw said.

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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.