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UNM faculty push for unionization

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article repeated a statement from AAUP that the bargaining unit consisted of 1,600 faculty members. This is incorrect, as the total number of faculty at UNM is nearly that amount. The article has been corrected with the accurate information.

More than half of the 1,600 faculty members at the University of New Mexico’s five campuses declared their desire to start a union for full-time and part-time faculty members. 

The collective bargaining unit will go under the name of United Academics of the University of New Mexico (UA-UNM). The faculty members the signed the petition comprise more than one half of all faculty at UNM. The union must prove that 30 percent of employees want a union in order to organize. 

According to the UA-UNM website, members will be required to pay dues, which will average around one to two percent of an employee’s base salary. The union is also working in conjunction with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). 

“Faculty are the backbone of our institution, yet we have seen over and over how decisions are made at every level that impact us, our students and staff, with only cursory input from University stakeholders,” said Julia Scherba de Valenzuela, associate professor of special education at UNM.

The first step of the process is for the University to review the petition. If they recognize the union, then the union automatically has collective bargaining power. If a dispute arises, it will be handled by the UNM Labor Management Relations Board. Afterward, an election will be held, and if the union wins the support of the majority of voters, then the body will have the authority to collectively bargain.

Representatives of UA-UNM met with University President Garnett Stokes during her traveling office hours on Wednesday to present the petition to her. 

“I am committed to listening, fostering collaboration and developing relationships within our campus community, and in that spirit, am looking forward to learning more about this proposal,” Stokes said in a written statement. 

Matias Fontenla, associate professor of economics, was one of the representatives who met with Stokes and said the union seeks to address a number of issues facing UNM faculty, including academic freedom, diversity in the workplace and compensation — specifically the cost-of-living adjustment.

“By forming a union, we get a seat at the table,” Fontenla said.

Fontenla is also a member of the Faculty Senate, and said the two bodies will work hand-in-hand on issues facing faculty.

Since faculty members are public employees, they are legally not allowed to strike, although many public bodies have done so in the past. However, the UNM Labor Management Relations Resolution requires the University to bargain collectively “in good faith” with a union representative. The University is also not allowed to refuse to comply with any labor agreement. 

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Fontenla said the faculty unionizing will have a direct benefit on students, adding “if faculty are heard and faculty are content, this will have a direct effect on the quality of education at UNM.”

Numerous other universities and colleges have faculty unions, including Rutgers, Michigan State University and Central New Mexico Community College. 

Last month, the faculty of Wright State University, a public university in Dayton, Ohio, went on strike for a total of 20 days, with health care being the primary issue. 

Kyle Land is the editor-in-chief for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at or on Twitter @kyleoftheland. 

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