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UNM faculty union wins in landslide

University of New Mexico. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal file)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

University of New Mexico faculty voted overwhelmingly this week to be represented by a union despite eleventh hour opposition from some professors who argued that the move would harm the university’s stature.

Members of UNM’s regular faculty voted 500 to 304 in favor of unionization. Adjunct faculty at UNM voted 256 to 26 in favor of forming their own union, a landslide victory for those pushing unionization.

The union question churned up a high voter turnout among faculty at the state’s flagship university. Nearly 80% of the 1,028 eligible regular faculty members cast a ballot. On the adjunct side, almost 60% of the 492 eligible voted during a two-day election.

“Faculty tend to be very individualistic. We all have different ideas and different opinions. A show of force this big is incredible. Having 500 to 300 is just incredible,” said Matías Fontenla, an associate professor in the Department of Economics, who was in favor of unionization.

The vote is preliminary for the next week, giving sides a chance to appeal, until the results are certified by the university’s Labor Management Relations Board.

Once certified, there will be two bargaining units on UNM’s main and branch campuses. One union is for regular faculty, which includes professors, associate professors, assistant professors, research professors and others. There will be a different bargaining union for adjunct faculty. Faculty in the UNM Health Sciences Center are not included in either bargaining unit.

Faculty voted on Wednesday and Thursday, and the votes were counted Friday afternoon. Several dozen people – mostly union supporters – gathered to watch the process and celebrate once the votes were tallied.

Earlier this year, faculty members petitioned the labor board to create a new bargaining unit, which led to this week’s vote on unionization.

Support for unionization was apparent from the start. A forum on faculty unionization last spring drew hundreds of faculty members, with the vast majority speaking in favor of forming a union.

Nonetheless, there was some opposition to the union. Some faculty members appeared to try to organize a counter argument in the recent weeks. At a Board of Regents meeting Tuesday, about 10 faculty members spoke against the union.

But union supporters said they were confident all along the measures would pass.

“I’m not surprised. We worked our butts off for many years and talked to thousands of people. We knew we had a majority,” said Billy Brown, an adjunct math professor.

UNM’s administration created a website that shared information about faculty unionization. But UNM President Garnett Stokes and most other administrative officials didn’t take a position publicly on whether they wanted a faculty union at UNM. The lone exception was Provost James Holloway, who in a email sent throughout the university described why he was not in favor of such a group at UNM. Holloway issued a statement Friday after the results were announced.

“UNM’s faculty are one faculty, even as they are a varied group of singular scholars and intellectual entrepreneurs,” Holloway said in a statement. “The debate over faculty unionization has been vigorous and intellectually robust. Such exchanges of ideas and clashes of values are core to the special environment that a research university must create. Ideas can be launched here, challenged here, and made better here.

“The faculty decisions on unionization speak their will, and I look forward, in partnership with our faculty and the rest of the Lobo community, to helping move UNM forward as a great research university.”

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