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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.

Grad union continues bargaining process with UNM

The United Graduate Workers of the University of New Mexico met with the University's bargaining team on June 23 through 25 to further discuss the Union’s contract. Pushback from the University continued with further debate over a nondiscrimination clause, employee contracts and disciplinary discharge.

“(A nondiscrimination clause) is codifying certain protections that, as we can see with Roe v. Wade being struck down and all these other Supreme Court (cases), (are not) guaranteed rights … We know that despite UNM’s claims, federal and state laws can’t take the place of (a) solid nondiscrimination clause in the contract,” Union member Joe Ukockis said.

The language in the proposed nondiscrimination clause is standard in many other union contracts, according to Katie Despeaux, a chief steward of the Union.

In the clause defining employee contracts, the Union is asking for clear descriptions of what is required of graduate workers. The University has offered a counterproposal which would prohibit personal errands for advisors from being a mandated task of graduate workers, but the Union is not satisfied; the University’s proposal still contains vague descriptions of duties, according to Ukockis.

“The language that they offered, their counterproposal, was rather limited. And so our bargaining committee feels that they have moved a little more to save face than to actually fix this exploitation issue,” Ukockis said.

There is also continued disagreement over whether nonrenewal of a contract could be considered discipline. Grad workers are often given verbal guarantees that their funding will remain with nothing set in writing. These guarantees are less-than-guaranteed, though, and workers are left “in the dark,” according to Ukockis.

“(UNM said) that we shouldn't be planning our lives around verbal guarantees and future funding, which is really out of touch with how precarious we are as grad workers. And our bargaining committee believes that this is fostering a culture of distrust between grad workers and their advisors,” Ukockis said.

The two parties are working out a compromise on a grievance clause matter, but are still formatting a timeline of what the process would look like, according to Ukockis. The parties have reached an agreement on the language of the first clause, which establishes the two parties — the Union and the University — as well as outlining both parties’ agreement with the contract’s contents; this agreement is simply language, though, as the parties have yet to agree on the contract itself.

Despeaux said she is remaining optimistic considering how far the Union has made it up until this point.

“The fact that we've made it this far, it's just really nice. So I think membership is relieved that we're where we are, and obviously anxious that it will take longer to get the contract than what anybody wants,” Despeaux said.

Both Despeaux and Ukockis said that the Union won’t back down on issues like the nondiscrimination clause.

“Everybody is collectively really worked up over the nondiscrimination issue in particular, but that's kind of galvanized some energy within the membership,” Ukockis said.

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The next set bargaining dates are July 13 through 15. The groups had dates laid out to meet through August, but Despeaux said talks will most likely stretch well into the fall semester. The Union had asked for dates to be laid out through August to prevent even more delays than they have already experienced.

“If they delay it, they're not obligated to abide by a contract that doesn't exist yet. And then they are for sure trying to weaken us. They want us to get tired, get too frustrated, become unmotivated, and it's kind of funny because we're grad workers; we have really good tenacity,” Despeaux said.

When asked about the nondiscrimination clause, The Unviersity declined to comment on any specifics of the negotiations.

“UNM is happy to be engaged in constructive negotiations with UGW-UE to establish a first collective bargaining agreement. As required by state law and respectful negotiating practice, the University does not comment on the details of active negotiations,” UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair wrote to the Daily Lobo.

As the sessions continue throughout the summer, morale within the Union remains high, according to Ukockis.

“We know that we're right. We know that the things that we're fighting for are things that should be easy to get, that nobody outside the Union, in the community or people who even are just on the surface would disagree with. So we feel pretty righteous in what we believe in and we know that we're on the right side,” 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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