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UNM graduate students seek more protections in union contract

United Graduate Workers protesting for discrimination and harassment within union contract outside a UNM building.
Jeanette DeDios
United Graduate Workers protesting for discrimination and harassment within union contract outside a UNM building.

Last December, graduate students at the University of New Mexico saw their first victory when they were officially unionized; but that celebration was short-lived as union members protested Thursday for more protections in the contract under negotiation.

Members of United Graduate Workers of UNM picketed Thursday outside the building where negotiations were taking place between the union and UNM officials. They’re seeking the inclusion of what they say are basic protections against discrimination and harassment.

“I've heard a lot of stories and it's heartbreaking to see them go through that,” said Christian Rhoads, a UNM graduate student for languages, literature, and culture who has spoken with a lot of fellow grad students impacted by discrimination.

Chief steward for the United Graduate Workers, Ian Birdwell, said union voices aren’t being heard.

“We want graduate workers to be able to do their job without fearing, discrimination or harassment," he said.

UNM officials said they do not comment on active negotiations, but they issued a written statement noting that UNM has strong policies regarding harassment and discrimination and students who feel their rights have been violated have many options to seek redress.

But in a 2021 bargaining survey, 79% of graduate workers said existing laws and policies do not sufficiently address harassment and discrimination.

Negotiations are ongoing and Birdwell says the union will continue pushing for more protections.

“We hope that by making some noise, we make it clear to the university how much this means to us," he said. "We’re not backing down.”

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s currently a part of the Local News Fund Fellowship where she will be working with KUNM-FM and NMPBS during her 9-month fellowship where she will gain hands-on newsroom experience. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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