UNM to get legal help to deal with faculty union effort

The University of New Mexico has hired a labor and employment law firm in response to faculty members filing a petition to form a union.

The UNM Board of Regents on Thursday convened for a briefing on the petition, which was filed last month with the UNM Labor Relations Board. It was the first meeting since the confirmation of five new regents who were appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to the seven-member board.

A group of UNM faculty has moved to create a new bargaining unit, which would be comprised of more than 1,600 full- and part-time faculty on UNM’s main campus in Albuquerque as well as its campuses in Gallup, Los Alamos, Taos and Los Lunas. They would become the United Academics of the University of New Mexico, according to a website created by organizers.

Interim Provost Richard Wood said it’s the first time in at least 20 years that university professors have pushed to create a union.

The labor board would need to certify the petition by determining that at least 30 percent of affected faculty expressed an interest in the union, Wood said. If there is a vote on unionizing, he said, 40 percent of the faculty would have to vote, and a simple majority vote would be needed for passage.

University officials said that in the meantime, they’ll work to inform people about the effects the union would have at the university.

“I think that one thing that is absolutely essential is that we launch an extensive education campaign for our faculty so they fully understand the ramification of the decision to unionize,” UNM President Garnett Stokes said.

Petition organizers couldn’t be reached by email late Thursday.

Julia Scherba de Valenzuela, an associate professor in UNM’s special education department, said last month that a union would allow professors to have a louder voice on matters that affect them. The union would be affiliated nationally with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors, according to prior Journal reports.

Loretta Martinez, chief legal counsel for the university, said that UNM has hired Jackson Lewis, a labor and employment law firm, to advise the university on its response to the faculty’s petition. University administration has until mid-March to file an official response.

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