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LETTER: UNM faculty ask admin to bargain with grad worker union


On Aug. 17, the New Mexico Public Education Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate employees are public employees and eligible to collectively bargain under the state's Public Employee Bargaining Act. The University of New Mexico community will be rallying Sept. 3 at 11 a.m. between the Student Union Building and Mesa Vista calling on the UNM administration to respect this ruling and begin negotiations as swiftly as possible.

We, the undersigned faculty, ask the UNM administration to recognize and collectively bargain with the graduate employee union — the United Graduate Workers of UNM (UGW). An overwhelming majority of graduate workers legally authorized UGW to represent them last fall, yet the UNM administration has yet to come to the bargaining table. We call on the UNM administration to respect graduate employees' decision to unionize and to bargain with UGW over pay, working conditions and benefits.

Our university would not be able to operate without the valuable labor that the 1,600 graduate employees at UNM contribute. According to UGW’s Bargaining Survey Report, graduate teaching assistants are the primary instructor of record for over 19% of courses taught at UNM. In addition, graduate teaching assistants advise students, write recommendation letters, assist faculty in grading, lead discussion sections and much more. It is likely that very few undergraduates graduate from UNM without having been taught or graded by a graduate teaching assistant.

Furthermore, the important research that we produce at UNM — research that improves our communities and advances our understanding of the world — would not be possible without the hundreds of graduate research assistants who contribute to research projects across the University.

Over 64,000 graduate workers at public universities across the country are represented by a union. Graduate assistants are unionized at many of the top public R1 universities in the country, including University of California, University of Michigan, University of Oregon, University of Iowa and the University of Florida. These universities have thriving research and education programs in large part because of the contributions of unionized graduate teaching and research assistants.

Graduate students at unionized universities report feeling more supported, having more work satisfaction and having better relationships with their faculty advisors and mentors. A graduate employee union at UNM will make UNM better, not worse, as it gives graduate assistants the opportunity to advocate for their needs and to thrive in their teaching, research and lives.

Graduate employees at UNM are some of the lowest-paid educators in the state. The minimum stipend at UNM for a graduate teaching assistant working a half-time appointment is lower than every unionized institution in the country. The UNM Basic Needs Report has shown that almost 22% of graduate students are food insecure and over 35% of graduate students are housing insecure. 

Furthermore, UGW’s Spring 2021 Bargaining Survey Report showed that 65% of surveyed graduate workers reported delaying medical care due to the cost of care. As pay and benefits at UNM lag behind peer and unionized institutions and many struggle to access adequate housing and meals, graduate workers deserve the right to advocate for their needs through the process of collective bargaining.

As an R1 university, UNM’s mission is to produce valuable research and provide the highest quality education to undergraduates from across the state, country and world. We know that the working conditions of graduate assistants are our undergraduate students’ learning conditions. Graduate assistants are simply asking for a seat at the table and a say in the decisions that affect their lives.

We ask the UNM administration to respect graduate assistants’ decision to unionize and bargain with UGW so that we can continue providing a high-quality education and produce innovative research that advances our society and improves our communities.


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