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Staff vote will settle union’s fate

Proponents urge employees to voice their opinions

Ona Savage, a union organizer and UNM staff member, said her faith in people has motivated her to continue to push for collective bargaining despite more than six years of hurdles.

“I believe that we can make a difference,” she said. “I have served on committees for over 15 years with little results, and I believe that a union can make a difference.”

Savage and members of United Staff of UNM, the group seeking to represent employees from academic advisers to child care workers, are asking all eligible employees to cast their ballots Thursday, regardless of how they feel about unions. It is the first of two union elections that will be held this year.

“Above all, I just think it’s important that people get out there and vote so everyone has a clear picture of how the staff feels,” she said.

Staff members from north campus will vote in the Basic Medical Science Building, while main and south campus staff will vote in Popejoy Hall. The rules that the University and organizing staff agreed to state that staff members must vote at the polling place nearest their work site between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Eligible staff members were notified by both the human resources office and the union about the election. The University and United Staff of UNM have designated an umpire, attorney Rita Siegel, as the independent party who will supervise the elections. In order for the election to be deemed valid, 60 percent of eligible staff members vote.

“It’s a chance for people to express their opinions, and we feel very positive by the response we’re getting all over campus,” Savage said.

Susan Carkeek, director of Human Resources, has said that UNM has a great working relationship with the staff, which has a representative sitting at the table with the Board of Regents.

“I think they have wonderful access, so I don’t particularly see the need for a union,” she said during an interview in February.

Other opponents of unionizing say the bargaining process takes away the individual’s rights and can slow the process of receiving salary increases.

“At this point in time, we have not had the opportunity to bargain for salary improvement, and we believe the union is something that can do that,” she said. “The union is a group that comes together and creates a viable interest that is equal with administrators at the bargaining table.”

Savage added that the group can be beneficial to both staff members and administrators.

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“We can come up with solutions to salary problems — whether it’s our ability to lobby the Legislature in conjunction with administrators or supporting our staff when it comes to negotiating those increases,” she said. “The bottom line is that there is strength in numbers.”

While Savage said a united group can wield power, she is aware that the benefits may not come easily.

“There are no guarantees, but by working together we are going to do a lot better than as individuals,” she said.

Savage said the group is hoping for a preliminary answer Thursday evening.

“We’re all going to be on pins and needles,” she said. “Lots of wonderful people have put in a very strong effort, and we’re just hoping for the best.”

For more information about the election, contact the United Staff of UNM at 243-4088 or the University’s Human Resources Department at 277-1849.

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