On Thursday, July 14, the United Graduate Workers of the University of New Mexico held a picket line where they confronted members of the UNM bargaining team as they walked into the building where Thursday’s bargaining meeting would be held. The picket served as a call to action on a nondiscrimination clause that the University continues to push back on.
“UNM calls itself a Hispanic-serving institution, and they care about diversity, and they care so much about examining the different types of people on campus. However, they have absolutely no way of protecting those people when they actually are discriminated against,” Union bargaining team member Samantha Cooney said.
Cooney shared a story at the picket about being forced to work with a faculty advisor after telling the University she did not feel comfortable doing so knowing he had a history of sexual harassment. Cooney was simply told, “Each of us had to take our turn.”
“I’m tired of having to take my turn. I'm absolutely tired of the next person having to take their turn. I don’t want that to happen to a single other worker at UNM. We need a non-discrimination article in our contract and we need to be protected from those predatory professors,” Cooney said.
The clause would allow a graduate worker who is experiencing discrimination to contact their steward in the Union to file a grievance. The grad worker would also be protected from retaliation, according to Union members Ian Birdwell and Christian Rhoads.
This process is currently being used to document cases of discrimination to present to the bargaining team. Bargaining committee member Ramona Malczynski said UNM’s response has been a lot of lip service and legal jargon for why the Union does not need this clause.
“It seems like the UNM bargaining team, they don't really care. You can tell that they don’t really care about the well-being of graduate workers … It's very emotionless, talking about legal terminology. But we bring up instances of people being harassed and discriminated against and it's like, they don't respond with urgency,” Malczynski said.
While the nondiscrimination clause remains something that the Union will not back down on, it’s only one of many crucial aspects of the contract, according to Union member Elle Herman.
“But it's about a lot more than that. It's about pay, healthcare, it's about getting treated right. It's about having a fair work week, having the time to learn while we're teaching, while we're researching, while we're doing all this shit,” Herman said.
With each bargaining session, the University continues to spend taxpayer money to fund its legal staff; the Union’s lawyer is not funded with taxpayer money, according to Birdwell.
“I also want to say that every continuing session at which we are stalled on nondiscrimination is more taxpayer money spent on a legal opposition to what should be pretty common sense,” Birdwell said.
Other UNM unions attended the picket in support of the graduate workers’ union, including the UNM faculty union, United Academics of UNM. Union President Ernesto Longa spoke in full support of the graduate workers and recognized their struggle, as the faculty union was not able to secure a nondiscrimination clause.
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“We genuinely believe that your fight is our fight,” Longa said.
Malczynski also read anonymous statements of other Union members who have faced discrimination at UNM and never heard back after reporting incidents to Title IX. One statement documented homophobic comments a graduate student received wherein a faculty member told them their lifestyle is wrong.
The picket and bargaining session were originally scheduled for July 13, but the University bargaining team canceled due to a conflict with their lead lawyer. The picket was then postponed, after which the University tried to move the meeting back to July 13, according to Malczynski.
For Malczynski, the picket demonstrated that more than just the graduate workers present in the bargaining room support a nondiscrimination clause.
“The only way they're gonna move is if we show them that 100s and 1000s of people are paying attention to what they're doing,” Malczynski said. “100s and 1000s of people are watching that UNM wants to allow rampant harassment and discrimination.”
Madeline Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @maddogpukite