Workers at Transgender Resource Center forming a union

‘We need trans organizations that are stable, safe, prosperous and accountable,’ former board member writes

By: - December 7, 2022 4:30 am
Employees stand outside the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque

Employees at the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico said they were told the center was closing suddenly for a company holiday in November. But the workers said they suspect it was really because they started the process of forming a union. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

The people who work at the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico no longer feel safe or comfortable talking to their managers, according to a complaint to the center’s board of directors, and they are organizing a union to try to protect the center’s future.

Since the workers started unionizing last month, the Albuquerque nonprofit’s board of directors has lost two of its members, and employees say they face retaliation and union-busting.

The union on Nov. 14 handed a letter to the Center’s Executive Director Michael Trimm seeking voluntary recognition from Trimm, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Advocacy and Development Adrien Lawyer, and two other managers.

“We seek to align ourselves with the mission and values of TGRCNM while improving the morale and workplace environment for all staff, no matter their position,” the letter, signed by eight of the nine staff members, states. “We believe that unionizing aligns with the long-held values of TGRCNM and its mission to support all transgender, nonbinary, and gender-diverse people – including its employees.”

The sign for TGRCNM in Albuquerque promises support, community and connection.
The Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico unexpectedly closed its doors on Nov. 18 but reopened for six days on Monday, Dec. 5. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

The union wrote that the center’s staff “do not have adequate representation within the workplace, which has created significant challenges that we seek to change,” and that unionization would ensure democratic representation for all staff, whether they are members or not.

Previous attempts to solve issues have failed, the union wrote, and there have been repeated violations of employment rights, trust, and staff cohesion. Unionizing is a way for staff “to assure that our rights and experience as staff are improved,” the letter states.

The center closed four days later, as Albuquerque was facing 40-degree temperatures and without any warning to community members, said Youth and Families Services Coordinator Charlie Alexander.

People do not sleep at the center but many have long-term storage bins, because when living outside, there is not a safe place to keep one’s personal belongings, Alexander said.

“We still care about our people that we serve, and we did not agree with the decision to close the center and leave our people in the cold without their belongings, without a day to gather the stuff that they need,” Alexander said, like blankets, tents, clean syringes, or food.

Charlie Alexander and Wyatt Day stand outside the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque
Charlie Alexander (left) and Wyatt Day work in youth and family services at the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico. Both have faced numerous verbal warnings from senior leadership and say the work environment created by higher-ups has led to employees feeling unsafe at work. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

The union agreed to return to work on Monday for six days to provide limited services to clients before they go on a two-week-long winter break. Going back to regular job duties is not feasible right now, Alexander said.

Allegations of union-busting

Since they delivered the union paperwork to Trimm, employees “have faced retaliation after retaliation,” Alexander said.

The evening after the union gave Trimm the letter, Trimm gave Alexander a verbal warning, they said. Then on Nov. 21, management “took me off a project I was doing, because it wasn’t ‘in my job description,’” Alexander said.

As of Tuesday, four union members had verbal warnings “without just cause,” Alexander said, which puts their jobs in jeopardy in the event they face any further discipline.

Management also stopped staff from collaborating with each other, Alexander said.

Stacy Fatemi stands outside the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque
Stacy Fatemi is an education & outreach program manager with the resource center. They said they’ve encountered long working hours, and Fatemi often under-reports the number of hours worked. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

Education and Outreach Program Manager Stacy Fatemi said the purpose of prohibiting collaboration is “an attempt at union-busting, trying to make us more isolated from each other, so we have less contact with each other, so that our ties to each other weaken, so we have less power to go up against the decision of executive leadership.”

Emails, phone calls and text messages over the last two weeks to Trimm and Lawyer seeking comment for this story were not returned.

Two board members gone

The union tried to raise their concerns with the Center’s Board of Directors after “past attempts to communicate their concerns did not receive the attention they needed,” wrote Latasha Hagan, a now former board member, in an Instagram post.

They entrusted Hagan and now former board member León Powell to raise the concerns at the board’s Nov. 7 meeting.

However, the rest of the board “completely dismissed” them, Alexander said. Hagan wrote that the other board members left them out of major decisions and conversations about the union.

“It saddens me to see how far this has gone and how leadership is handling this,” Hagan wrote. “I truly hope leadership can come together and get back to helping our community.”

Facebook messages and emails to all of the other board members seeking comment for this story went unanswered.

Stark Armijo, Jazzmin Owen and Nichole Garcia, stand outside the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
Stark Armijo (left) and Jazzmin Owen (right) both work in drop-in services at the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, while Nickole Garcia (center) works in the adult services program. All three said they’ve had negative run-ins with senior leadership since the group filed for unionization. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

The same day that the employees delivered the union paperwork on Nov. 14, members also submitted a complaint to the board alleging discriminatory and inappropriate behavior toward staff and program participants, unlawful and retaliatory punishments, lack of effective policy, and problems with agency and staff safety.

Hagan wrote in the Instagram post that the board held a special meeting two weeks later, and about 15 minutes into the meeting, a majority of the members voted to dismiss Hagan from the board, on the grounds that they had a conflict of interest for having “a dual relationship.”

Hagan wrote they are hurt and angered about their dismissal because they had told Trimm about the  relationship when they first joined the board in July, and it had not been a problem. But the information was “used to discredit the concerns” Hagan and Powell raised on behalf of the union.

Powell verbally resigned during the meeting and turned in their resignation on Dec. 5 because they disagree with actions and decisions by board members and management, they wrote in an Instagram post.

Lucy Malarkey and Hannah Cullins stand outside the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
Lucy Malarkey (left) and Hannah Cullins both work in harm reduction at TGRCNM. They said they had to rely on third parties for information about whether the community was still receiving services while the center was closed. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

Reached for comment, Powell said they support the union’s formation and believe the staff should have a supportive work environment that allows them to provide vital services to the most vulnerable transgender folks in their community.

After weeks of back and forth over the voluntary recognition paperwork, management finally handed over a half-complete Voluntary Recognition Notice, which the union completed and filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Dec. 3.

The union expects to begin collective bargaining negotiations on Jan. 3.

In addition to directly impacted people, the situation hurts the efforts of support for transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and intersex people and “adds fuel to the fire of anti-trans violence and legislation that is threatening our very lives,” Powell wrote in the Instagram post.

“This is particularly heartbreaking because our community needs spaces like TGRCNM to succeed,” Powell wrote. “We need trans organizations that are stable, safe, prosperous, and accountable.”

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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.

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