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A collection of signs lay on the ground at a rally hosted by the United Graduate Workers of UNM in September 2021.

UNM seeks to appeal graduate workers’ right to unionize

The University of New Mexico filed a notice of appeal against the New Mexico Public Employee Labor Relations Board on Nov. 19, in which they hope to overturn a decision from August that granted UNM graduate student workers the right to unionize.

The United Graduate Workers of UNM are a part of the larger United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) and have been fighting for better health care coverage, higher wages and increased influence over University-wide decisions.

“Despite long hours teaching, researching and grading, graduate assistants earn an average minimum stipend of just $14,438 per year and struggle with lack of access to medical care and inadequate protections from harassment,” University graduate worker officials wrote in a press release issued on Nov. 23.

The current appeal was filed in the Second Judicial District court, along with a motion to stay, which would halt the Union’s ability to take legal action to improve working conditions until the case is decided. Dina Holcomb, the lawyer representing the University, said in the motion that doing this would “avoid unnecessary expense of public resources.”

However, the ongoing legal battle that the University has chosen to pursue has already cost them nearly $130,000. This includes paying Holcomb, who makes an hourly wage of $185.

Bargaining committee member Ramona Malczynski said the notice of appeal is firing up Union members. There were at least 35 graduate unions across the country as of 2018, according to the Graduate Labor Organization.

“We're not going anywhere because we know we need these changes desperately. So (this appeal is) just going to drag out this process for everyone and they're going to continue wasting tens of thousands of dollars,” Malczynski said. 

On Nov. 23, members of the graduate worker’s union went to Los Poblanos after a notice of potential quorum was released announcing that UNM Board of Regents members would be there for lunch. The Union hoped to hand-deliver a letter asking the Regents to urge the UNM administration to withdraw the appeal. However, of the Regents that Union members spoke to there, none agreed to the Union’s request.

“It is disappointing that the UNM administration continues to ignore the law and devalue the labor of graduate workers,” Jens Van Gysel, a linguistics graduate assistant, said in the Nov. 23 press release. “The labor board, elected leaders, community members and more all support our right to unionize. It’s time for the UNM administration to do the right thing and bargain a contract.”

UNM marketing and communications officer Cinnamon Blair said the University’s action is not a reflection of how they value graduate students’ work.

“Because of the importance of these issues to our mission, we feel that a correct and thorough legal examination of the issues is necessary and this is the role of the courts,” Blair wrote in a statement on Nov. 24.

Some graduate workers have taken offense to the motion the University has set forth. Long-time Albuquerque resident Malczynski has always been very proud to go to UNM but said this battle the University has been putting up against graduate workers is frustrating.

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“It's really upsetting when your employer keeps saying that they don't value your work enough to pay you a living wage, or to provide you vision and dental insurance ... I love being here, but when you consistently see that the University administration leadership keeps dismissing you when you have very real needs, it's very frustrating,” Malczynski said.

The Union is planning an upcoming joint action with the Communications Workers of America, the custodial union at UNM, who are also fighting for a living wage.

Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @madelinepukite

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