ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Graduate workers at the University of New Mexico are continuing to fight to become a certified union, even though the university says it plans to appeal a ruling that would allow graduate student employees to do so. 

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After trying to unionize in 2020, a hearing officer on the state public employees labor relations board determined graduate students were not regular employees because their jobs last only for a semester. 

Graduate students filed an appeal and in August, the board sided with student workers. Duncan McGraw, with the United Graduate Workers of UNM, says, “In August we actually received a decision from the labor board that kind of went against the initial recommendations, saying that grad workers are public employees.”

But last month UNM filed a notice of intent to appeal in district court. McGraw shares how UNM grad workers are feeling after the notice was filed. “Exhausted, they have been working for so long. This has been over a year that we have been trying to just essentially prove to the university that we’re even worth speaking to about getting better conditions.”

Grad workers say unionizing would let them have a direct say in the amount of money they’re making per year, plus benefits, working conditions, and more. 

According to McGraw the minimum stipend for some students is just over $14,000 per year. “That’s not enough to live on so even though they do provide healthcare, it’s something to where, especially those with families can’t add their children can’t add their partners without incurring massive debt,” says McGraw. 

In the university’s notice, it outlines a number of findings as to why graduate students are not “regular” employees. A spokesperson for the university says in a statement “This notice is not a reflection on the value of our graduate student employees and their contributions to UNM.”

UNM grad workers say they plan to keep fighting. There will be a so-called “work in” on Tuesday at Scholes Hall where graduate student employees will do their work to show administrators how much they contribute to the university. The university’s appeal has yet to be filed. The university says a legal examination of the issues has to happen first.

UNM’s full statement: 

“UNM did file a notice of appeal last week in response to the recent final decision of New Mexico’s Public Employees Labor Relations Board (PELRB) concerning the pending petition for a graduate student employee union at UNM.   

This notice is not a reflection on the value of our graduate student employees and their contributions to UNM. The impetus for the appeal, which has yet to be filed, is that University believes the PELRB has been incorrect and overbroad in its rulings, and this case will set a precedent for all research universities in New Mexico. We note that PELRB’s own Executive Director had ruled that UNM graduate student employees are not eligible to bargain collectively as a union. Because of the importance of these issues to our mission, we feel that a correct and thorough legal examination of the issues is necessary and this is the role of the courts.”