The United Graduate Workers of the University of New Mexico just wrapped up another bargaining session on Friday, Aug. 12 and are preparing for the next on Monday, Aug. 29, with a walk-in planned for Monday, Aug. 22. While the Union is making progress, they still face difficulties from the University, according to Samantha Cooney, a member of the bargaining committee.
“We've made a lot of movement with the UNM bargaining team towards an agreement on what those assistantship contracts should say and how much clarity we should have the right to before starting our job duties each contract period,” Cooney said.
Previously, many graduate workers had experience with being asked to do personal tasks for advisors as a part of their job, according to Union member Megan Vigus. Having definitive job descriptions would also enable them to be more prepared for their work.
“So we're making progress on having a two-step process where there's a draft contract that has these assistantship duties and descriptions that can be negotiated before it gets sent for final approval by graduate studies office,” Vigus said.
However, the Union did face arguments with the University over a grievance clause, which is outlined by the Public Employee Bargaining Act as an avenue where employees — but not the University — can file grievances; the University has been calling for equal power to enact grievances through this same process, according to Cooney. Cooney is concerned about the potential room for abuse if the University is able to use it as well.
“I think it's also important because the University itself has a lot more money than employees do. And if they were wanting to take us to arbitration and spend an exorbitant amount of money that the employees and Union just doesn't have, I think it's quite important that that right remains solely within the Union,” Cooney said.
Another point of contention that was brought up was the University retracting raises that were given to some graduate students, claiming it was illegal to do so while bargaining with the Union.
However, Vigus said there is no legal substance to the University’s claim; the raises would be illegal had the University used them to encourage graduate workers not to be in support of the Union, but this was not the case. The raises are currently still retracted.
“They're trying to claim that they think that because they're negotiating with the Union, departments aren't able to offer raises, which is not true legally,” Vigus said.
The University also argued that the raises would cause pay discrepancies between departments. This is already the case and the raises would not have a large impact, according to Vigus.
“(We are) going to push for raises, of course, when we get to economic bargaining, and it'll be higher, of course, than what the University offered,” Cooney said.
There is still no agreement over the union rights, which would include details about the Union's ability to collect dues. The University is trying to push forward on its management rights, which would include details about rights over employment and operations. Cooney said they will not discuss management rights until union rights are agreed upon.
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They plan to move into discussions on economic bargaining soon, however, they are still at a stand-still in regards to the nondiscrimination article and have yet to reach an agreement on discipline and discharge. The Union is continuing to advocate for representatives present at any meetings involving reprimands, according to Cooney.
“We do still need to find an agreement on employee contracts and discipline on discharge, but we do hope to move on to economic sections soon, which would be about pay for grad workers and health insurance benefits, that sort of thing. One of the things though, that has continued to stay stagnant is the nondiscrimination article, which is incredibly frustrating, of course, for our members,” Cooney said.
Madeline Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @maddogpukite