Let’s Get Unionized: University of New Mexico Faculty Laboring Up

By KAY MATTHEWS

When the interim University of New Mexico provost sends out a letter to the faculty saying he believes that faculty and management are essentially on the same team, just after the former embarks on its campaign to form a union, Dylan’s lyric “the line it is drawn” comes to mind: “Shared governance between the faculty and administration has been a long-standing part of our institutional identity as a public research university and we must look deeply and objectively at whether a unionized faculty—and, if faculty choose unionization, what model of unionization—will benefit our deeply held values of collegiality, shared governance and academic excellence.” Hopefully the curse won’t be cast and UNM will see that the times they are a changin’ as universities across the country continue to form active campus unions.

The United Academics of the University of New Mexico (UA-UNM) is currently engaged in organizing the UNM full and part-time faculty with the help of the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors: nine hundred faculty members have signed union cards with the UNM Labor Relations Management Board (LMRB). The group filed a petition for an election to collectively bargain for wages and working conditions on behalf of the more than 1,700 faculty at UNM’s Albuquerque campus and its four branch campuses: Gallup, Los Alamos, Taos and Los Lunas.

Unfortunately, the UNM administration filed legal objections to that petition. One of the main objections appears to be the inclusion of all the different types of professors at the University in the proposed union: tenured, tenure track, part-time, adjunct, etc. This is how the acting provost puts it in his letter to the faculty: “Unionization in the setting of a research university also raises extraordinarily complex questions, including which members of the campus community constitute an appropriate collective bargaining unit; whether the interests of different categories among faculty (with very different functions vis-a-vís the academic mission) inherently diverge or overlap sufficiently to cohere; what union structure could fully and fairly represent the competing interests of such members; and whether in a collective bargaining setting retention offers could be made and outstanding research and teaching contributions be recognized and rewarded.”

The objection lists those “members of the university community” it believes don’t “constitute a collective bargaining unit:” Professor of Practice (a category of eight part-time professsors); Adjunct professor; Research positions; Visiting Professors; Working Emeritus. The objection then cites that these different positions constitute an “insufficient community of interest in employment terms.” Shane Youtz, the attorney representing the union, responded to this objection in an Albuquerque Journal article: “We believe (the professors) have an appropriate community of interest and the petition is appropriate. We read it [the University’s objection] pretty clearly as an attempt to delay the process.”

The objection was filed by UNM Chief Legal Counsel Loretta Martinez, but perhaps the University’s most definitive commitment to battle is its hiring of the notorious union-busting law firm of Jackson Lewis to represent it in these union negotiations. According to Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times, Jackson Lewis “is widely known as one of the most aggressively anti-union law firms in the U.S.” It employs more than 900 attorneys in 58 offices in 37 states, with offices also in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. While in the past it represented thousands of employers, including large retailers such as Ikea, manufacturers such as IBM and Boeing, and health care firms, in the past decade it has moved into public-sector higher education union busting. In recent years it has represented the University of New Hampshire, Barnard College, Emerson College, Northeastern University, Middlesex County College, Columbia University, and NYU, among others. As UNM American Studies Professor (and former La Jicarita co-editor) David Correia wrote in an article about Jackson Lewis, “College administrators hire Jackson Lewis for the same reasons for-profit employers do: to bargain to impasse with existing unions, or, in the case of UNM, to stop unions from being formed in the first place.”

The UNM contract with Jackson Lewis limits payment to $60,000, but records reveal that the law firm’s representation of the University of New Hampshire, similar to UNM, cost a quarter of a million dollars. Correia quotes Professor John Logan, an historian of union busting, about why the law firm can charge so much money: it “basically runs the whole show . . . They’re writing speeches, training supervisors, making video and websites to convey the anti-union message. They script everything.” In a phone conversation with Correia, he added, “you don’t hire Jackson Lewis if you want an agreement with a union or you want to respect your employees right to unionize. You hire them for their hardball tactics. . . . The university will claim this is just a legal process and Jackson Lewis is well regarded, but it’s quite clear that most of the time, when you hire Jackson Lewis, it’s to take a hard line.”

UNM has experienced both a crisis in enrollment and funding over the past few years, which dramatically affects its ability to recruit and keep the faculty necessary to adequately meet its obligations to the students and research of a flagship university. The UA-UNM website lists some of these abysmal statistics garnered from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

  • From 2008 to 2017 funding for higher education per student in New Mexico declined by 30 percent.
  • New Mexico was one of the few states in 2016 to cut funding, a 5.8 percent decrease.
  • Tuition has increased while the percentage of the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship dropped to 60 percent of tuition for 2016-17 (a slight boost in 2018 is still not enough to cover full tuition).
  • Revenue at UNM’s main campus is now about $24 million less than it was in 2009, with approximately the same number of students.

UA-UNM believes that with a union the faculty will have a much stronger voice in decisions that affect the well being of the University and will help “ensure that the university honors its commitment to the diverse communities we serve” (from the UA-UNM Vision Statement).

Now that the University administration has declined to voluntarily recognize the union, the petition will continue to the LMRB review process. Any questions raised are resolved by the LMRB, either by working with the pertinent parties or through a hearing process. When the LMRB has finished reviewing the petition and all questions have been resolved, an election will be scheduled. Should a majority of voters vote yes, the union will be certified, initiate bargaining with the employer, and enjoy the full protections that exist under New Mexico labor law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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