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UNM graduate workers rally to include research assistants within union

Jeanette DeDios
Lauren Martin, a master's student in French gives a speech at the United Graduate Workers of the University of New Mexico rally outside Scholes Hall on campus.

Around 60 graduate workers and supporters rallied outside Scholes Hall, the latest of many actions as they push for a contract with UNM by Friday. Among their demands are increases in pay for graduate assistantships and inclusion of research assistants on salary increases.

Katie Despeaux is chief steward for the union. She says UNM officials have stated they cannot control how much research assistants are paid if the assistantships are funded by grants.

“I've gotten paid by grant money before, we can include our research assistants in this contract," she said. "They're just being stubborn and pushing back wherever they feel they can.”

Source New Mexico’s Austin Fischer reports the average minimum stipend for a graduate worker at the university is $14,438 per year. Lauren Martin, a master's student in French, is in her last year as a graduate student but says fighting for better pay is still worth it.

“If I personally got zero dollars but we established this union, and we established this community, and a perpetuity of fair raises and fair wages and fair training and contracts, and all these lovely things for perpetuity — that would be amazing. So even if I don't get that raise personally, I think it's important to pass that on while I'm here.”

Despeaux says it’s difficult balancing being a fulltime student with teaching undergraduate classes and stress over expenses.

“Am I gonna be able to buy groceries, am I eating ramen all week, and then feeling like crap afterwards? And also wanting to show up and be your best in class, like, we really do care about our students. And when we're overworked, underpaid, stressed out about those types of things. We can't do our best for the 500 classes we teach each semester.”

Friday will be the final day of bargaining between the university and the union before UNM proposes a contract, which then goes to union members for a vote.

A university spokesperson was unavailable to comment on the rally by airtime.

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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