State employees rally in favor of telework as legislative session begins in New Mexico

Workers at understaffed agencies ‘expecting a little understanding in return,’ union steward says

By: - January 18, 2023 4:30 am
CWA Local 7076 Treasurer Anne Keller (left) wore a union jacket to the rally on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. outside the Roundhouse as lawmakers gathered for the start of the legislative session.

CWA Local 7076 Treasurer Anne Keller (left) wore a union jacket to the rally on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, outside the Roundhouse as lawmakers gathered for the start of the legislative session. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

Allie Alaimo is a chemist who has for three years helped review and issue oil and gas permits for the state of New Mexico as an advanced environmental scientist with the Air Quality Bureau.

She brought her 2-year-old daughter Ivy to a rally in support of telework on Tuesday morning outside the Roundhouse, holding signs against blowing wind and near-freezing temperatures in Santa Fe.

“We’re here to hopefully reverse the decision to rescind telework,” Alaimo said.

The state government initially announced at the end of the year that state workers would return to the office in early January before pushing the return date out to Feb. 2.

The rally started at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and continued until mid-afternoon.

Alaimo’s union, the Communications Workers of America Local 7076, is challenging the end of telework in a complaint with the labor board, citing violations of the bargaining agreement and labor law.

She said telework helps protect her and her family from COVID and other harms. A friend watches Ivy while she works from home, which she said lowers the chance of Ivy getting exposed at a day care center.

Alaimo considers herself lucky to have been able to spend time with Ivy for the last two years instead of commuting to work. It’s had a positive impact on both of them.

“If we want to include more career women, women who have professions, in the workforce, this is the right way to go,” she said.

She would choose being a parent over her career, “but I don’t think I should have to,” she said.

“I feel that way about all the parents I work with,” she added. “They shouldn’t have to.”

Union: NM calling state employees back to in-person work without much of a plan

Brenda Alvarado works in the state’s Border Health Bureau, and is a CWA union steward.

Wearing a mask, she said she has elderly parents and a baby nephew she’s trying to protect from illness.

Rescinding the telework policy, Alvarado said, would make that harder.

Prevention is one of the best things we can do for public health, she said. She agreed that a mask is a preventive measure — just like a seatbelt or a car seat.

Alan Tway is an IT business analyst at the New Mexico Department of Health and executive secretary of the local CWA. He said his big concern is that the state government as a whole has a 25% vacancy rate, and without telework, that gap will grow.

“If you don’t offer telework as an option to people, they’re not going to take the jobs,” Tway said.

The Department of Health specifically has a 30% vacancy rate, Alvarado said.

“And we’re losing people as you and I are sitting here talking,” Alvarado said. “We’re tired, and I think we’re just expecting a little understanding in return.”

As a union steward for the Las Cruces area, state workers tell Alvarado they are planning to leave.

“They’re leaving for work where they are getting telework, and the pay is better,” Alvarado said.

Standing outside the east entrance to the Roundhouse, she said state lawmakers need to act on these issues.

“They ask for our votes. We act for them. They need to act for us,” Alvarado said.


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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.