Faculty members, graduate students, health care workers and custodians showed up to rally for better wages at UNM on May 10, 2023. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)
Unions representing University of New Mexico faculty members, graduate students, custodians and hospital workers gathered on campus Wednesday to call for better wages, a day before the university’s Board of Regents plan to finalize the school’s budget.
Members aimed to raise their voices so university officials take their thoughts into account when finishing up the budget on May 11. Most of the unions present are either negotiating their contracts with UNM now or will be again soon.
Members from the United Academics of UNM spoke about the need to raise annual pay for adjunct professors, which averages about $32,000 per year, according to the union.
Joseph Garcia is adjunct faculty in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies. He teaches seven classes a year at UNM but only makes $28,000, he said.
He makes double that salary through his second job doing tech support work at the Central New Mexico Community College. If he could find an educator position at a school elsewhere, he said he’d leave UNM.
“I’d rather be teaching than full-time tech support,” he said.
United Academics wants UNM to set a baseline annual salary of $52,000 for all faculty. House Bill 417, introduced in the 2023 legislative session, would’ve ensured this minimum salary, but the bill died in its first committee.
Garcia said he thinks it’ll get through eventually, especially considering the huge wave of unionization across the country. He said one of the roadblocks to change in New Mexico is that it’s illegal for teachers to go on strike. Other states are lifting that rule, he said, and New Mexico should too.
Scott Kamen is currently a full-time assistant professor at UNM, but used to be an adjunct.
As a part-time employee, he depended on his partner’s income for support, he said. He struggled with thinking of his pay because, “I would have just been too depressed.”
He said the narrative that it’s too expensive to pay faculty more is false. Adding $2.7 million to the staff budget line would pay all of the part-time faculty $52,000 a year.
Paula Corbin Swalin has been an adjunct professor for 15 years at UNM. Similarly, she said many others get paid much more than she does. Still, she’s stayed at UNM for so long because she loves teaching, even despite not feeling like university officials recognize her dedication to the craft.
And it’s not just something happening to her, Corbin Swalin added. She said she’s had colleagues taking on three of four jobs while teaching just to support their families or trying to make ends meet.
“We’re the permanently temporary, hired and fired, semester after semester, year after year,” she said.
Corbin Swalin asked UNM to be transparent in figuring out the details of the school’s billion dollar budget and prioritize workers on the campus, which consequently affects students.
“The working conditions of every staff person, every graduate worker and faculty member on our campus are the students’ learning conditions,” she said. “It takes all of us to make this university work.”
UNM spokesperson Steve Carr said the campus won’t discuss details regarding active salary negotiations, but “we look forward to reaching an agreement with UA-UNM on faculty salaries.” There’s another faculty negotiating session scheduled this month.
Dozens of custodians also attended the event in a push to get better pay.
Felipe Hernandez joined as part of the custodial union and said through a Spanish translator that he has seen the workforce decline due to poor conditions in his 26 years of work.
Hernandez wants to see better pay and more support from his supervisors.
Similar messages emanated from Rep. Eleanor Chavez (D-Albuquerque), executive director of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, District 1199, who also attended the rally.
She said while UNM Hospital higher-ups get large salaries and bonuses, health care providers are working multiple jobs just to keep up with inflation and to stay financially stable.
She said last year, the union negotiated a $15.25 per hour minimum wage at UNM Hospital, but that’s not enough to keep up with the expensive costs of housing, food and daycare needs.
“All we’re asking for as workers is a just living wage,” Chavez said.
Ramona Malczynski, member of the United Grad Workers of UNM, referenced a basic needs study that shows the food and housing insecurities people at UNM face. She said the unions need to use this data to push UNM to give them a living wage.
“They’re not going to do anything unless we make them,” she said.
Malczynski said the coalition of all the unions together will bring more power to negotiation tables for everyone.
“We’re bringing out all these unions from across the campus, and we’re building a campaign to demand a living wage,” she said. “And once we’re united, they won’t be able to divide up.”
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