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UNM graduate student workers rally for better treatment and pay

University of New Mexico graduate student workers
Jeanette DeDios
The United Graduate Workers of UNM march around campus for better wages, benefits, and treatment.

Graduate workers at the University of New Mexico showed up on the first day of the semester to protest what they say is mistreatment and low-pay; and remind the administration how crucial they are to the university.

Members of the United Graduate Workers of UNM rallied Monday morning to negotiate better working conditions, wages, and benefits for the 1600 graduate workers at the university. Negotiations for a contract began in May.

"We're here to show them that, to walk into the first day of school, to show them that we can walk out," said Katie Despeaux, chief steward for the union. "That we have the union power behind us, that we're not going to just wait patiently for a contract. We demand a fair contract now."

Second year graduate worker, Elizabeth Solis, told the crowd she felt micro-aggression when she worked as a teaching assistant. Part of her job included prepping a lab each week.

"A couple of weeks into the work, I started to notice that I was being assigned janitorial duties, but only me."

Solis met with her professor to talk about it.

"The meeting began with her intimidating me, yelling at me," said Solis. "She threatened to take away my job by saying, 'I'm friends with the chair, I can report this to the chair and that you are in violation of your contract.' How am I in violation of my contract?"

Despeaux says an official union contract with UNM is important to protect union grad workers from this kind of behavior.

"I want this to be a university that other students are wanting to come to and work for and be in my departments and contribute good things," said Despeaux. "We want to make sure every grad student is protected now and in the future."

The union also recently delivered a letterto the Office of Graduate Studies at UNM after discovering several departments were told they could not give graduate workers raises while contract negotiations are underway. The union says that’s a misreading of labor law.

Spokesperson Cinnamon Blair said UNM is a place where all students can make their voices heard and the university is looking forward to a productive semester, including negotiations with the union.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for August 29.

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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