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‘4% don’t pay the rent’: United Graduate Workers rally for higher wages

The United Graduate Workers of the University of New Mexico rallied at Scholes Hall for higher wages on Tuesday, April 23. While UGW initially asked for a 50% overall salary wage increase and a 58% increase to minimum salaries, the University administration proposed a 4% increase.

Three days after the rally, UGW received “more binding language” from UNM administration to include research assistants in proposed wage increases, a group that was previously left out, according to the UGW Instagram. They also received proposed increases to minimum salaries for project assistants and graduate assistants.

At the rally, graduate workers and research assistants expressed concerns about their financial well-being and future plans.

Aida Revilla, an information technology research assistant, works two consulting jobs in addition to her research assistant position “to make ends meet,” she said.

“I don’t think we’re asking for anything that’s either impossible or unfair. All graduate workers give so much of our time and energy to this institution and we deserve to earn a living wage,” Revilla said.

Gabriel Garcia – a doctoral student and a teaching assistant in the English department – cannot afford dental work he needs, he said, which affects his mental health.

“Just ask anybody who works for a living to figure out how they would live on such little money,” Garcia said.

For a single adult living in Albuquerque with no children, the minimum annual income before taxes is $41,647, according to the Massachusetts Institution of Technology living wage calculator.

Wilber Dominguez – a physics research assistant –, Revilla and Garcia  all make under $2,000 per month, they said. Garcia and Dominguez each pay an average of $1,250 per month for rent.

In a speech at the rally, Ernesto Longa, president of the United Academics of UNM, cited concerns about faculty salaries expressed at a July 15, 2003 Board of Regents meeting.

“The problem of noncompetitive wages for UNM faculty and graduate workers has been known by the Administration for over 20 years,” Longa said.

At the 2003 meeting, “salary issues” were listed as the number one faculty priority. Faculty assistant salaries were about 84% of the national average for the 2000-01 school year, according to the meeting minutes.

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A wage increase would allow Garcia to stop taking out student loans, he said.

“It would be a huge peace of mind to be able to focus on my research, my teaching and my coursework,” Garcia said.

The wages graduate workers are paid also impact the students they teach in terms of quality of education and campus morale, Revilla said.

“This is a detriment not only to our quality of work, but to the quality of work we’re providing to our students,” Revilla said.

The University is a central part of the state’s economy because it brings in students and economic opportunities, Dominguez said, and if graduate workers were not concerned about finances, it would make the institution more successful.

“This is really not just a graduate worker issue. Everyone in the state should be concerned about this. The flagship university of the state should be paying their workers a living wage,” Dominguez said.

Shin Thant Hlaing is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at

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