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UNM faculty to vote on union in fall

Jessamyn Lovell finishes hanging banners in the lobby of the Popejoy Theater for a UNM faculty meeting on unionization. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — University of New Mexico professors — from a part-time English teacher at the Gallup branch to a tenured chemistry professor on the main campus — will head to the polls next fall to vote on whether to form a faculty union at the state’s largest university.

An all-faculty meeting on unionization drew more than 100 professors, including several from branch campuses, to Popejoy Hall on Tuesday.

Nearly every teacher in attendance spoke or applauded in support of organizing, and many faculty members had letters written by their colleagues who couldn’t attend, professing their support for a union.

“I’ve been here almost 20 years, we haven’t tried (unionizing) before,” said Blair Wolf, a biology professor who spoke in favor of it. “People have talked about it off and on for a long time. I think there’s very strong support for unionization. Because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Hoping that somebody will step up and do the right thing and treat you fairly, well that’s never happened. I think support for the union, certainly in my academic unit, is very strong here.”

An agreement on union membership positions was reached Monday night between attorneys for UNM and attorneys for the United Academics of the University of New Mexico, just as they were preparing to hold a hearing on the matter before the university’s labor board. A group of faculty had petitioned the labor board to form a faculty union in February.

There will be an election on whether to create a union on the main and branch campuses in the fall. University officials have said at least 40 percent of professors will have to cast a vote in the election for it to be valid and the union will form if it passes by a simple majority.

UNM administration and the union agreed that there will be two bargaining units: one for full-time faculty and another for part-time and adjunct faculty, said Shane Youtz, an attorney for the faculty union.

Youtz said almost all of the roughly 1,700 faculty positions at UNM and its four branch campuses are included in one of the two units, except for visiting professors and retired professors who still hold positions at the university.

Members of the UNM faculty head into Popejoy Hall for a meeting about faculty unionization. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Supervisors, managers, confidential employees, deans, associate deans, provosts and instructors at the UNM Health Sciences Center are not included in the union, according to the petition filed with the labor board.

UNM administration and the proposed union agreed to a fall election, but not an exact date or other terms, said Rita Siegel, an attorney for the labor board.

The faculty union would be new at the university, but there are already several unions at UNM representing police officers, nurses, interns and residents and cafeteria and maintenance staff, Siegel said.

At the all-faculty meeting on unionization on Tuesday, almost all of the more than 40 or so professors who lined up to speak during a public comment period were in favor of organizing. Forty-five minutes allotted for comments was extended by a half hour to give the supporters a chance to speak.

Stagnant wages were a major concern that the faculty hoped a union could address, along with gender pay gaps, equality and inclusion issues and faculty governance.

Wolf said that UNM can attract great faculty, but not getting consistent raises makes it hard to retain them. He said he hopes organizing can improve wages and will also make other improvements at the university, such as making faculty more diverse.

“At least you have a voice with the union, and we don’t have one now. We have no input … it all depends on what the priorities are for the administration, the regents and the governor,” Wolf, who has been at UNM for 19 years, said in an interview. “I think faculty, by and large, want to do what we love doing, which is training undergraduate and graduate students. Nobody wants to beg for a raise, which is essentially what you have to do for a raise here.”

The faculty meeting also included a question and answer session with UNM administration, which has tried to appear neutral to faculty unionization.

A web page dedicated to faculty unionization on the university’s website says that the administration respects the faculty’s right to organize and encourages them to gather information on the process. It doesn’t state a firm stance for or against a union.

Faculty have raised concerns with the university’s decision to contract with the law firm Jackson Lewis for up to $60,000 for assistance in unionization. University officials have said such hires are common.

President Garnett Stokes moderated parts of the faculty meeting but didn’t share much detail about UNM’s official stance on the union. She declined to comment further about her position on the proposed union.

UNM Chief Legal Counsel Loretta Martinez answered most of the questions posed by faculty during the meeting.

“We have engaged in good-faith discussions (with the union’s attorneys) since the very beginning,” Martinez said.

According to the American Association of University Professors, 21% of all universities have faculty unions. Among public universities, 35% of have unions.

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