United Graduate Workers of the University of New Mexico and the UNM Administration have developed a tentative agreement for compensation negotiations. If approved by the Union, raises would go into effect in January.
The tentative agreement includes a 6% raise, a 6% increase of the minimum stipend a grad worker can be paid, along with standardization of contracts to 18 weeks for teaching assistants/associates, research assistants and graduate assistants, according to the Union’s website and union member Anna Rose.
This allows all graduate students in teaching positions to have a week of paid prep-work for a 17-week semester.
The agreement would also reopen UGW’s bargaining sessions in March, aligning with state and University budget schedules, according to the Union’s website and Ford Peay – a teaching assistant and union steward for the English Department.
Last year, the University completed its budget in May and the State Legislature completed its budget in March, both occurring prior to the current Nov. bargaining negotiations.
This year, the state's budget process will end in February. However, when the state legislature is in a full 60-day session, during odd-numbered years, this process ends in March as it will in 2025.
“If we're bargaining in the fall, then the amount possible for us to bargain for is probably more narrow,” Peay said. “If we're bargaining in the spring, then we have a chance to potentially lobby in tandem with UNM to make sure that the pool of money for the whole University is bigger overall and has space for graduate workers.”
This agreement is less than UGW's first proposal of a 20% wage and 35% minimum stipend increase, but more than the University’s proposal of a 5% wage increase and 5% minimum stipend increase from Nov. 2, according to a Union bargaining update.
Many graduate students are feeling the pressure of rent prices and inflation outpacing wages. Jason Santos, graduate assistant and union steward for the Philosophy Department, expressed this at a Nov. 14 UGW rally.
“Despite living in terrible conditions across the board, graduate workers are having to put the majority of their paycheck towards rent,” Santos said.
Santos cited a UGW survey that showed that 42% of UNM graduate workers spend a majority of their monthly income on rent.
“Rent has outpaced our wages significantly, and so it’s going to take a significant raise to match this. And this is not mentioning the cost of groceries which has also skyrocketed – leaving graduate workers food-insecure,” Santos said.
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Graduate workers who financially support children, parents or partners feel the burden of low-wages the most, Alicia Esquivel said – PhD student and union steward for the Sociology Department.
“78% of the members who responded to our compensation survey told us that they are supporting someone else with their wages,” Esquivel said.
Steve Carr, Director of University Communication, refrained from commenting on specifics in a statement to the Daily Lobo.
“UNM is actively engaged in contract negotiations with UGW-UE on wages. As required by state law and respectful negotiating practices, the University does not comment on the details of active negotiations. The University is currently working productively with the United Graduate Workers. The timing of the current negotiations was requested by UE during the creation of the original collective bargaining agreement. Graduate education is a critical part of the UNM mission, and we greatly value the educational opportunities that are afforded to our graduate students through coursework, teaching, and research,” Carr wrote.
Voting on the tentative agreement begins Nov. 20. To be accepted, over 50% of voting UGW members must approve of the agreement.
“People were pretty supportive of this offer in terms of how it sets us up to play the long game and to be able to better organize around the legislative calendar which sets the budget for UNM,” Peay said.
Nate Bernard is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo
Editors Note 11/20/2023: Clarification - A different version of this article was published with a shorter version of the statement from Carr; due to an editing error, it was simplified to say he did not mention the negations. It has since been updated with the full statement.