Graduate student workers lined the halls and piled into waiting rooms at the University of New Mexico as they staged their 12-hour work-in at Scholes Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 7. The students were physically showing the University how much work they do in a day to protest the University’s decision to appeal the New Mexico Public Employee Labor Relations Board’s ruling that granted them the right to unionize.
“Today at this work-in, graduate workers of all kinds … are gathered together to do what the University has claimed for the past year we don't do: work. We will be teaching classes — which I'm doing right now — holding office hours, grading papers and lesson planning all day until 8 p.m.,” union member Alana Bock said. “UNM can no longer deny the value of our work — the work that our students, colleagues and community know we do every day.”
In the morning, the group at Scholes Hall participated in public comment at a virtual Board of Regents meeting, explaining the purpose of the work-in and calling on the University to withdraw their notice of appeal. However, the Regents merely thanked them for their time and did not respond further.
In addition, although the Union asked to speak with UNM President Garnett Stokes during the work-in, her chief of staff Terry Babbitt told union members to try sending her an email instead to arrange a meeting. However, union member Samantha Conney said the Union has had no response after several attempts to reach out already, including two separate email campaigns the Union started which sent prewritten letters to the Board of Regents and Stokes.
“We have not received word back, so that avenue is just not working. Honestly, we would just like to have a quick conversation with our employer,” Cooney said.
Union member Marley Russell said a work-life balance is an essential need for graduate students that UNM needs to deliver on.
“I hope that the University can understand through our collective voice that work-life balance isn't just a buzzword. It's something that we absolutely require to be able to thrive and to be able to teach our students,” Russell said.
A press conference was held in the morning outside of Scholes Hall with speakers from the Union and undergraduate students, as well as representatives from other unions on campus present in solidarity, including the custodial union, Communication Workers of America, and the faculty union, United Academics.
Members from the Leaders for Environmental Action and Foresight were also present in solidarity. Member Sofia Jenkins-Nieto said graduate workers have a profound impact on undergraduate education, from teaching classes to writing letters of recommendation to more.
Another LEAF member, Cassandra Huneau, said she hopes that movement in the graduate union’s struggle will improve the conditions of undergraduates on campus by proxy. This comes after being forced to work unpaid hours as an undergraduate student.
Jenkins-Nieto said seeing how UNM has treated graduate workers in the fight to unionize is discouraging for a lot of undergraduate students when considering attending graduate school at the University.
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“Without grad students, without research assistants, all these things, the University doesn't run, research doesn’t get completed,” Huneau said.
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madelinepukite