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A sign reads "OUR UNION IS HERE TO STAY" at a rally held in support of the United Graduate Workers of UNM in September 2021.

UNM to begin grad union contract negotiations after PELRB petition approval

Contract negotiations between the United Graduate Workers of the University of New Mexico and the University are in sight as the two jointly filed a petition, which specifies bargaining unit modifications, with the New Mexico Public Employee Labor Relations Board on Monday, Feb. 14. The petition, which clarifies that only graduate students with assistantships are in the bargaining unit, is likely to be approved, after which contract negotiations will begin immediately.

If PELRB accepts the petition, UNM will drop their appeal dating back to November on the board’s decision that gave grad workers the right to unionize, according to UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair.

Julie Hayes, a member of UGW’s bargaining committee, said the University waiting until the petition is approved to rescind their initial appeal is mostly based in formality and that negotiations are a near certainty.

“It's just a procedural thing at this point … They are legally bound to bargain with us and this is the process of them complying with the law,” Hayes said.

The University preparing to begin the bargaining process came as a happy surprise to many union members. Hayes said members were preparing for a long fight ahead as they thought UNM would continue to appeal the decision.

“I think this was a quick, decisive turn in the right direction,” Hayes said.

Union members showed up to UNM’s Board of Regents meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 15 to voice their support for the Union in the public comment section. Third-year Ph.D. candidate Richard Maska, present on behalf of the grad worker union, said UNM withdrawing their appeal is the right decision.

“I think both UGW and UNM admin should be delighted to be at the forefront of this monumental moment … My main takeaway is just seize this moment because it's not very often you get to be decidedly on the right side of history.”

Theodros Woldeyohannes, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of geology and environmental science, said graduate workers are excited to start the bargaining process and hope what they have accomplished leaves a larger impact, providing inspiration for other workers considering unionizing.

“I just hope the bargaining process goes pretty smoothly, and we can get a contract set up and then really just start paying people (a) living wage, really increasing our benefits,” Woldeyohannes said. “And more broadly, I just hope … it inspires people and workers in general to just keep collectivizing and really coming together and using their power.” 

Before getting to the bargaining table, Hayes said the Union encourages all current members to fill out their bargaining survey. The survey is used to gather union members’ opinions on what they want to see in the first contract with UNM.

“We want to make sure that every single member takes their bargaining survey so that we have a really good representation of what they're looking for, and what their needs are that they want represented,” Hayes said. 

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In the meantime, the Union continues to recruit new members, according to Hayes.

“It just shows that when we come together, we actually do have a lot of power, and we're really critical and important to the functioning of the University,” Woldeyohannes said. “So, if we want something as a student body, … through our collective power, we can really make things happen.”

Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at or on Twitter @maddogpukite

Megan Gleason contributed to the reporting of this article

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