NMSU faculty rally for union as deadline draws near


On the same day New Mexico State University announced a new interim president, following a failed search for a permanent appointment, professors pushing for a union expressed optimism about their endeavor. 

At a rally on March 29, about 100 educators and students called on NMSU to voluntarily recognize their union. A group of professors began unionizing in March to join the National Educators Association of New Mexico.  

The university can voluntarily recognize the union or push against it. 

"When NMSU had its recent chance to show how it felt about unions, in terms of the Graduate Workers Union, there was a very negative response by the administration," said Jamie Bronstein, a professor of history at NMSU. 

Bronstein, one of the union's organizers, cited the university's hiring a lawyer with a reputation for opposing unions as proof of the NMSU administration's intentions.  

The Graduate Worker's Union has also accused NMSU of not acting in good faith. A state labor board upheld a complaint against NMSU alleging that administrators failed to provide information to the graduate workers' union as stipulated in their collective bargaining agreement.  

While this effort began in 2019-2020, a previous effort in the middle of the 2010s failed. However, Bronstein and other faculty interviewed by the Las Cruces Bulletin were optimistic despite the past. 

"We are really hoping that the current administration, which is kind of in flux, will see that it's probably better in terms of cultivating good will with the faculty to just recognize this voluntarily," Bronstein said. 

The board of regents that governs the university rejected a slate of candidates selected by a hired search firm, ended a temporary contract with Jay Gogue as interim president and appointed Monica Torres, chancellor of the university's community colleges, as its second consecutive interim president in March. The board also relaunched the search for NMSU’s next president. 

"Who is the administration now?" joked Carrie Tafoya, an English professor, during the rally. 

Tafoya was one of dozens who attended. She's a college-track faculty member who teaches four courses per semester. Before that, she was an adjunct professor at NMSU for a decade. 

"Which means I was like a part-time employee," Tafoya said. 

She said the top grievance leading to the effort was compensation. NMSU needs to pay educators more, she said. 

"Especially for the amount of hours that you have to work," Tafoya said. "In my department, it's a lot of grading. So it takes a lot of outside time." 

Salary and benefits were the top grievances expressed by other attendees of the rally. 

"Initially, in 2019, it was kind of like a lack of respect for the faculty. That was two administrations ago," Bronstein said. "As we've spoken to each other more, and as we've had more conversations with our colleagues, there are people who leave here because their salaries can't keep up." 

Bronstein said others have raised issues with disciplinary practices against professors and the pipeline's health for younger faculty. 

Mary Parr-Sánchez, president of the National Educators Association of New Mexico, also attended the rally. She said years of issues add up. 

"It's just been the culmination of a lot of bad policy, a lot of revolving door of leadership, and a faculty that's frustrated and wants to see more stability and better conditions for students and themselves," Parr-Sánchez said. 

Parr-Sánchez, who taught at Picacho Middle School for 25 years before joining the Union's leadership, said NMSU's unionizing efforts are part of a wider trend. One review found that faculty across the U.S. created 118 bargaining units between 2013 and 2019. 

"It's just really simple. We see the wealthier get wealthier, and we see everybody else doesn't," Parr-Sánchez said. "Life just becomes more challenging and more challenging. It's just a basic inequity. And people are not stupid. They may not want to engage immediately. But there does come a point where they can't take it anymore, and they need to be heard." 

A similar effort at the University of New Mexico in 2019 saw parallel bargaining units of adjunct faculty and tenure-track faculty vote to unionize.  

But that's not the path NMSU's educators took, at least for now. NMSU's effort only includes tenured and tenure-track faculty. Adjunct professors are not included in the bargaining unit. 

"We needed to get our foot in the door of unionization. But I know there's a lot of interest among contingent faculty, and we would love to see your unit of adjunct faculty," Bronstein said. 

The date to recognize or reject the union is not set in stone. NMSU requested an extension on a procedural step on April 1, delaying the process. Justin Bannister, associate vice president and NMSU’s spokesperson, said the university would recognize the bargaining unit “in accordance with applicable legal requirements.”

NMSU Union, National Educators Association of New Mexico, Graduate Worker's Union