KUNM

Hospital Workers' Union Pushes UNMH For Better Pay

Jun 28, 2019

Negotiations continue between UNM Hospitals (UNMH) and the union that represents about 4500 of its nurses, aides, housekeepers and other workers. The union is holding out for better compensation in their new contract, which is meant to begin July 1st.

The latest round of talks saw the hospital budge a tiny bit, now offering a 2 percent raise, up from 1.7 percent. That’s according to Sharon Argenbright, a nurse of more than 40 years and current president of the Hospital and Health Employees' Union of Northern New Mexico. She says years of stagnant wages and high turnover have made working at UNMH unsustainable for many long-term employees.

“It’s our good care that is making money," said Argenbright. "It’s us, who come in the middle of the night, to assist with the surgeries, that make the money, and we’re not being compensated adequately enough.”

There are longtime food and nutrition workers making less than $14 dollars an hour, said Argenbright, while UNMH’s new CEO, Kathleen R. Becker, makes $620,000 plus benefits. A UNMH spokesperson refused to comment on Thursday.

UNMH has also proposed cutting some special pay rates, said Argenbright, including double-time pay for when nurses are called in on Friday nights. “Some people only work Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights because that’s when they get the pay that they need,” she explained.

Workers picket outside the UNM medical center in Albuquerque in mid-June.
Credit courtesy of Sharon Argenbright

It’s against the law for public employees to strike in New Mexico, but some union members have spent their free time picketing outside UNMH in Albuquerque off and on this month. The union also represents workers at UNM-run medical centers in Los Alamos, Taos, Las Vegas, and Santa Fe.

When Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the state's $7 billion budget plan in April, she promised state workers, including higher education employees, a 4 % raise. It's unclear how UNMH workers factor in to that calculation, though Argenbright says the UNM Board of Regents indicated their pay comes from "a different pot of money." 

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Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the long-term employees making less than $14 an hour are food and nutrition workers, not nurses. 

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Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, and from KUNM listeners like you.