On Friday, Dec. 3, custodial workers at the University of New Mexico protested for the University to pay them a living wage. A coalition of other unions in the state were present in solidarity, including the graduate student workers’ union, who showed up to also protest the University’s recent union-busting attempts.
The protest was held hours before the Hanging of the Greens, an annual tradition at UNM in which the community celebrates the holiday season with a variety of festive activities. According to a Dec. 3 press release from the custodians’ union, Communication Workers of America Local 7076, they specifically chose this time to hold their protest to contrast the festivities with the dire treatment of custodial workers.
“Despite having, in some cases, decades of service to the University, most custodial staff still earn just minimum wage,” read the press release.
In the past year and half, UNM’s custodial workers have been trying to bargain for higher wages, according to union organizer Milagro Padilla. The custodial union recently confirmed UNM’s compliance with the state minimum wage raise to $11.50 in January. The Union has proposed a $15 per hour minimum wage for custodial workers for the past three years in bargaining sessions, which the University has rejected twice, most recently in November 2021.
“I feel like we haven't spoken up enough in the past. We're doing what we're supposed to do now. Now is the time to talk and I think that now is the time for them to listen,” UNM custodial worker Sandra Hernandez said, translated from Spanish by Padilla.
The United Graduate Workers of UNM were present in solidarity for the custodial workers, also protesting the recent step the University took to appeal the New Mexico Public Employee Labor Relations Board ruling that granted graduate workers the right to unionize. The Dec. 3 press release said this not only delays the bargaining process for the Union but continues to cost the University thousands of dollars in lawyer fees.
“I'm very interested in making sure that we show that it's not just about graduate workers, ending our poverty wages, but making sure that no one on campus who works or lives here has poverty wages either,” Peter Wood, a steward for the graduate workers union, said.
Other union representatives also attended in solidarity, such as from the Committee of Interns and Residents, Academics United and more.
“Even if you do not see us standing here right now, I want you to know that we are here in spirit. We add our voices to yours calling for fair wages and safe working conditions at UNMH,” Susan Valentina read from a statement on behalf of the Committee of Interns and Residents.
Sentiments of unity and solidarity for individuals throughout the University were emphasized during the event.
“Our unity creates our strength, and we're going to keep fighting,” Hernandez said. “When I got here they told us that there wasn't a union. Look around: there is a union of people. Together, we're capable of everything.“
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madelinepukite