UNM graduate workers announce union effort

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

It looks like they learned from their teachers.

Graduate students are trying to form a union at the state’s flagship university, something University of New Mexico faculty did last year.

Several UNM graduate workers on Friday announced an effort to form a union, saying in part that they carry too much of the teaching load and don’t make enough in return.

“Graduate students are the lifeblood of a research university,” Annie Montes, a graduate student in the biology department, said during a Zoom town hall announcing the union effort.

During the Zoom meeting, several graduate students said in addition to taking classes, they do a significant amount of work for the university, like teach courses, work on research projects and organize workshops and other events. But many said their living stipends for that work are just a little more than $12,000 per year.

That’s why they are launching a drive to get as many of their peers to sign cards showing their support of the union. Their goal is to form the first union of “graduate employees” in the state.

Efforts to reach the graduate students behind the organizing effort were unsuccessful Friday.

UNM averages about 1,800 graduate students on an “assistantship” each semester, and salaries range based on experience, said Cinnamon Blair, a spokeswoman for the university. She said post-master teacher assistants make at least $15,465 for 20-hour weeks for 10 months of the year and they don’t have to pay tuition, which makes total compensation the equivalent of $30,000 per year.

Provost James Holloway said in response to the effort that graduate education is critical to UNM’s mission. Teaching and research, he said, are part of the graduate student experience.

“The university recognizes the rights of our graduate students to decide to organize, and no matter what decision they reach, I welcome open and honest discussions,” he said in a statement.

There are 3,750 students in graduate programs at UNM this fall, plus an additional 669 graduate students in the Anderson School of Management, according to a 2020 enrollment report.

Graduate students during the town hall said “United Graduate Workers of UNM” would be affiliated with United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. The union’s goals would include better compensation, increased scholarships, better medical benefits, guaranteed paid leave and protections against discrimination and harassment.

The graduate students are following faculty at UNM, who last year voted overwhelmingly to form two unions, one for regular faculty and another for adjunct faculty members.

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