A group of University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) workers and their union representatives picketed against the Hospital Wednesday morning.

The protesters, around 20 health care employees and representatives from the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, Local 1199, are accusing UNMH management of proposing a new contract they said is worse than their current contract. 

Media relations for UNMH, Mark Rudi, told the Daily Lobo that the Hospital’s Budget Office could not comment during negotiations, nor could the hospital, according to UNMH policy.

“UNM Hospitals continues to negotiate​ with the union. We appreciate and value our employees and are dedicated to putting our patients first in everything we do,” Rudi wrote in a statement he provided to the Daily Lobo. 

Eghe Ehiman, an operating room nurse, picketed on her day off. Ehiman, who has worked at UNMH since 2016 in her current position and previously from 2009 to 2013 said she and other workers believe 1.4% proposed raise is not fair compensation for hospital workers and is undermined by cuts to benefits.

“Speaking as a nurse, we enjoy serving the community, we like the experience, we love our coworkers, but fair compensation is due and 1.4% is pretty disrespectful,” Ehiman said. 

Sharon Argenbright, a registered nurse and the District President of the 1199 Union, said workers are “pissed” about their wages. 

“People are on a wage scale that doesn’t make sense. New people are coming in making more than employees with longevity... People are being told if you want to make money at UNM leave and come back because the new hire pay is better,” Argenbright said.

In addition to the wage proposals, UNMH is proposing to reduce Friday night differential and on-call hourly compensation, place a cap on vacation time for senior employees, increase requirements to be eligible for bilingual pay compensation and diminish employee discounts in the cafeteria from 30% to 10% off, according to the 1199 Union.  

The UNMH employee contract is set to expire on June 30. If the contract were to expire, the healthcare workers would continue to be employed under it until a new contract were reached, according to Argenbright. She added that the workers on the picket line were legally prohibited from striking.

"The law won't let us strike, but there are other ways we can turn the heat up on UNMH for the lousy way they treat employees," Argenbright said.    

In April, UNM approved a 3.1% tuition hike for fiscal year 2019 to assist in paying for a state-mandated 4% increase in compensation for University employees. It is unclear what that means for UNMH employees. A 2012 Albuquerque Journal article said that the University specified that UNMH employees are not considered University employees. 

The healthcare worker protest comes as members of the UNM faculty are attempting to form a union that does not include HSC faculty, and a month after graduate-student workers staged a walkout, demanding higher wages. 

The National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, Local 1199 has two bargaining units at UNMH which represents licensed, technical and professional support —  workers such as registered nurses, medical technicians and staff such as housekeeping. 

Justin Garcia contributed to this article. 

Lissa Knudsen is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @lissaknudsen. 

Danielle Prokop is the interim news editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @ProkopDani.