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A collection of signs lay on the ground at a rally hosted by the United Graduate Workers of UNM in Sept. 2021.

United Graduate Workers and UNM begin negotiations on wage increases

The United Graduate Workers of the University of New Mexico and UNM administration have begun another round of bargaining sessions. This the first time the sessions will be in conjunction with state and University budget schedules, as decided upon by the amended collective bargaining agreement last fall.

The union seeks to increase wages for all graduate students to attain “just compensation and living wages,” according to their website. The first bargaining session this round took place April 8, followed by an April 10 session.

This is the first time UGW and the University has held negotiations in the spring – the same time in which the University and the state of New Mexico set their budgets, according to Wilber Dominguez, union steward for the physics department.

The union’s first proposal was a 58% wage increase to graduate workers' minimum salaries and a 50% salary wage increase overall, union treasurer Ian Birdwell said.

“We took the average salary of a public school teacher in Albuquerque who works full time and we divided that by half, because we're mostly part-time employees,” Dominguez said. “If  58% sounds really big, that should be indicative that UNM is not paying us fairly … We're doing a lot of very similar work. We're all working towards education or educating undergraduate students.”

UNM administration did not deliver a proposal on the first day of bargaining, according to the union’s Instagram page.

At the end of April 10, the administration proposed a 4% minimum wage increase which would exclude research assistants, according to the UGW Instagram. This proposal was greater than their initial proposal earlier that day of a 3% minimum wage increase, excluding research assistants, Dominguez said.

Research assistants have been excluded from graduate worker wage increases in the past, according to Rikki Farrell, union steward for the linguistics department. 

“Because a lot of research assistantships – not all of them, but some of them – are funded through grants. The University didn't want to commit to paying research assistants the same way as other assistantships,” Farrell said. 

The Union Bargaining Committee, the committee which debates graduate worker wage increases with UNM, argued that UNM has an obligation to its graduate workers and its pledge as a Hispanic-serving research university to increase wages, Dominguez said. 

UNM is among 21 institutions in the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities, which has the goal of increasing UNM’s Hispanic graduate worker and professoriate population. 

“By 2030, they want to double the number of Hispanic doctoral students enrolled in the University and they want to increase the Hispanic professoriate by 20%. I don't know how they plan to double the amount of Hispanic PhD students if they're gonna treat us like this,”  Dominguez said. 

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UNM administration declined to comment, Cinnamon Blair said, UNM Chief Marketing and Communications Officer.

“UNM is currently engaged in negotiations with UGW-UE regarding compensation. As required by state law and respectful negotiating practice, the University does not comment on the details of active negotiations,” Blair said.

Future bargaining sessions are scheduled for April 22, 24 and 26, according to the UGW Instagram page. The union will increase their demonstrations on campus, including a rally on Tuesday, April 23 at Scholes Hall, according to Dominguez. 

“I'm optimistic,” Dominguez said. “I think we're gonna get a lot of people out. The University has to learn that now that we're a union, they have to respect us, and they have to work with us on the same level playing field.”

Nate Bernard is a beat reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo

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