NMSU Graduate Workers Union moves toward negotiations with administration

“This is nothing to NMSU, it is everything to us,” Stemock said.

Cielo Rodriguez (news editor) Staff Photo
Graduate+students+and+other+supporters+at+the+Graduate+Worker+Union+rally+hold+signs+while+taking+a+group+picture+on+June+9%2C+2022

Cielo Rodriguez

Graduate students and other supporters at the Graduate Worker Union rally hold signs while taking a group picture on June 9, 2022

The NMSU Graduate Workers Union held a rally around Hadley Hall on NMSU campus June 9 2022. This was a call for solutions for tuition remission among other demands based on the current conditions the NMSU graduate students are working under before negotiations between administrators and unionizers begin in July.

There were several speakers of graduate students, faculty, and alumni at the rally. Speakers Trisha Suplizio and Anna Van Balen also voiced their own personal experiences to help educate and give their own recommendations of what NMSU administration can do to finance tuition coverage for graduate students.

Suplizio is a recent alumna of the NMSU graduate program, who shared that her passion is what sustained her throughout the “tough times in the program” in addition to all the responsibility she had in her own department. She described that her and other students got the “lion’s share” when instructing students.

“When you [graduate workers] say NMSU works because we do, it’s not a joke. This institution would fall apart, and those responsibilities were overwhelming for me and for others,” Suplizio said.

Anna Van Balen is a current graduate student teaching assistant working in Languages and Linguistics. She recognized that even though she came from a place of privilege, she was still scraping by to meet her own basic needs on the current wages and tuition bills she must pay as a student at NMSU. “As a Teaching assistant at NMSU, I instruct about 50 undergraduate students every semester. I love my work, but at the end of the day, I pay literally all of my income back to the university in tuition, fees and rent,” she said. “With the cost of living rising so rapidly, I’m finding it difficult to afford even my basic living expenses on what I take home from NMSU,” Van Balen added.

Bryson Stemock has been one of the key leaders in the union’s growth and movement toward the change that they are searching for from current administration. Outlining a litany of issues at the rally, he spoke about in detail the finances NMSU currently has and the “gap” of current graduate worker wages and NMSU’s budget and finances.

Bryson Stemock, Graduate Worker Union organizer and NMSU Graduate Research Assistant speaks at a rally on June 9, 2022. (Cielo Rodriguez)

Statistics show that 33% of graduate student’s take-home pay is going back to NMSU in shape of their tuition costs. Due to their work as teacher’s assistants and research assistants count as revenue, these costs make up only 1.35% of NMSU’s total unmarked unrestricted revenue. “This is a drop in a bucket to NMSU, but they are going to fight us tooth and nail–when this is a third of our take-home pay. This is nothing to NMSU, it is everything to us,” Stemock said.

“After closely reviewing the operating budget, our research team discovered that NMSU has a projected surplus of $8.5 million in unrestricted Instruction and General fund revenue and a projected $2.5 million in unspent student aid funds,” he added. “Graduate workers are facing a crisis, NMSU can afford to act now to cover $2.7 million in tuition for graduate employees for the fall 2022 while we work together at the bargaining table to find long-term solutions.”

Stemock mentioned that more students have been reaching out and telling him that they’re dropping their programs because they can’t afford the costs–and he emphasized those costs are even more dire for international graduate students, who not only have to endure costs in a new socioeconomic climate but are more limited in the resources they can obtain due to visas and government regulations because of their status as transfer/international students. Under the current conditions graduate workers endure, most to all these international students cannot retain proper health care because it is not given under their employment with NMSU, while most other staff have health care plans.

Jamie Bronstein is the current Faculty Senate Leader for NMSU. She represents almost 100 faculty members who are also in support of the graduate student tuition remission and other needs the graduate student union continues to fight for. “As Bryson showed, it is a tiny amount of money that we’re talking about, and it can have an outsized impact. Just the thought that there are people that have incomes of $300,00 to $500,000 who know that graduate workers are having to live on 12,000 a year, is gross,” Bronstein said.

“The Chancellor has told graduate workers that faculty does not support them, and the only concern that I’ve heard from a couple of members is the fear that if tuition gets remitted that is if students don’t have to pay tuition that there will be fewer graduate workers hired,” she noted.

A statement was released from the Chancellor’s office yesterday, June 8 and addressed these future negotiations.

“New Mexico State University is preparing to enter into negotiations with the union representing our graduate assistants. During this process, negotiation topics can be raised by either party and may include stipend rates, insurance, tuition remission and other items. NMSU looks forward to these discussions and will honor the negotiating process of reviewing these items at the bargaining table with the identified negotiating teams.”

Bronstein added that a way for current students of NMSU to get involved is to petition ASNMSU Senators and leaders to push resolutions in favor with graduate student tuition remission or any sort of solidarity that they can think of. “They may not realize that their TAs are put in this situation,” she said.

Current Petitions for graduate workers, for whoever wants to sign can here: https://nmsugrads.ueunion.org/petition/. A specific faculty petition can also be found here: https://secure.ngpvan.com/p4imAAY5M0SpPx3sSBKETw2.

 

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