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U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury is supporting a union of University of New Mexico graduate student workers in its demand that the university initiate collective bargaining talks with the organization.
Stansbury tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday and was forced to abandon plans to appear at a graduate workers union news conference Wednesday on the campus grounds east of the Student Union Building.
But, in a statement read by a spokesperson at the conference, the New Mexico Democrat wrote, “I’m proud to stand in solidarity with UNM graduate workers in their work to build a brighter future for the entire UNM community, and I look forward to a fair bargaining process that recognizes the vital contributions of graduate workers to teaching and research at New Mexico’s flagship university.”
UNM graduate employees are graduate students who work as teaching assistants and research assistants. They teach classes, grade papers, maintain office hours, answer students’ questions and/or help professors with research projects. Members of the fledgling union say graduate workers routinely work more hours than they are paid to work and are paid an average of about $14,500 a year, which works out to less than a livable wage.
On Dec. 9, 2020, the graduate workers filed for union recognition with the state Public Employees Labor Relations Board. That recognition was eventually granted. In November, however, UNM filed notice in 2nd Judicial District Court that it intends to appeal the PELRB’s ruling.
“We have not received a final ruling from the (PELRB) board, and given the broad definitions found in the board’s rulings to date, we want to make sure there is sufficient clarity in the law as we proceed,” said James Holloway, UNM provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “We have a duty to our students and the university to be certain that our concerns are addressed.”
About 60 people gathered in the gray chill of Wednesday for the noon news conference, chanting “What do we want? A contract. When do we want it? Now.”
Graduate worker Ramona Malczynski, a bargaining committee representative for the union, said the organization’s demand for negotiations is bigger than the graduate workers community.
“This is about the future of our university and the future of our state,” she said. “How UNM treats its employees reflects on alumni, students and all New Mexico residents.”
Stansbury’s statement noted that she is herself a former graduate worker.
“I know firsthand the hard work and dedication that graduate workers bring to our universities,” Stansbury wrote.
Attorney Israel Chavez, a UNM alumnus, was among other community representatives who spoke during the news conference. Chavez said he was encouraged by the tenacity of UNM’s graduate workers in fighting for better working conditions, but he is not proud of his alma mater’s resistance to the bargaining process.
“Union busting is wrong,” he said. “UNM must now stop wasting resources fighting workers rights, do the right thing and bargain in good faith to improve the future of higher education in New Mexico.”