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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.

Graduate workers’ union begins bargaining process with UNM

As incoming graduate workers find their way onto campus this fall, they will have the opportunity to join the recently recognized graduate workers' union. Returning graduate workers will continue to fight for fair wages and better working conditions in bargaining sessions scheduled throughout the summer.

The United Graduate Workers of the University of New Mexico had their first contract negotiation sessions with the University’s bargaining committee from Wednesday, May 4 through Friday, May 6, reaching a heavy point of contention on the third day. The University pushed back on articles surrounding anti-discrimination and contracts, something the Union went on to speak about during the public comment at the Board of Regents meeting on Tuesday, May 10.

“Many of us were down at the Regents meeting expressing our frustrations with some of the last negotiation(‘s) discussions over the last couple of days. And so we were there vocalizing some of what we were feeling about the current discussions taking place, and so it's been a long day. It feels heavy,” Gustavo García, chief steward of the Union, said.

The anti-discrimination article the Union is asking for in the contract would be another avenue for graduate students to seek support if they feel they are being discriminated against at UNM. The University argued that things like Title IX, the Office of Equal Opportunity, and state and federal legislation are sufficient enough.

“Thinking about what's currently happening on a national level with Roe v. Wade, we don't want to leave the non-discrimination clause up to the state, and even to the nation, because we know that things change and things can be overturned,” García said. “And so, for us, it's really important to be able to be explicit about what we want in this contract that will make it safe and comfortable for us to be able to have a procedure if something is wrong, or we feel unwelcomed, or we feel (there’s) something that we're being discriminated on.“

The University also pushed back on an article to prevent contract renewal from being used as leverage against graduate workers. The article stipulates that if renewal is used against a graduate worker, it should be seen as a disciplinary measure and that nonrenewal be considered a discharge.

“They aren't working with us on the possibility of discharge being (a) possible form of retaliation or that the nonrenewal of contract is discharge … if a graduate worker is released from a contract without much explanation, without any discussion, and especially if that particular graduate worker has been made to feel sort of targeted in the workplace, there should absolutely be a door open for them to investigate that as a form of retaliation,” Ian Birdwell, a chief steward of the Union, said.

Birdwell said that the articles surrounding contracts are important because unclear language in contracts may lead to the exploitation of graduate workers’ labor. García said that UNM also pushed back on the Union collecting dues from paychecks, a common practice in unionization. The union currently only collects dues by hand and would have to continue this practice if UNM does not allow them to establish a contract.

Katie Despeaux, another chief steward of the Union, said they were not surprised when the University chose to plan the initial bargaining sessions near finals week.

“Finals week is always a hard week. And we know, we think that UNM scheduled the first round the week before final(s) week on purpose so that we wouldn't perhaps be on topic, but we're used to overburden at the end of the semester. So we were like, ‘okay, we can do it,’” Despeaux said.

Still allowing for lots of back-and-forth between the two parties, García said that the Union will continue to push back on issues that they feel are important, specifically the anti-discrimination article. Despeaux said they anticipate continued pushback from the University.

“So we're already getting pushback there, and we're expecting a lot more once we get into the economic (issues) and the asking for things that involve money,” Despeaux said.

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The Union will continue to have bargaining days throughout the summer, with the next session being July 23-25.

“We really just want the University to bargain with us in good faith. You know, that's all that we're asking,” Despeaux said.

Madeline Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at or on Twitter @maddogpukite


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