July 25, 2008
NMSU Union Reaches Tentative Agreement
By Ashley Meeks, Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.
Jul. 25--LAS CRUCES -- Secretaries, custodians, painters, welders and the rest of the approximately 550 members of New Mexico State University's hourly employees union have reached a tentative agreement with the institution's bargaining team -- but there's room for improvement in the relationship between the two entities, some say.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2393 wants a pay increase approved by the state Legislature to start July 1 in time for their July 31 paychecks. But, union President Barbara Arispe, a Cooperative Extension employee, said the university has been "drag(ging) their feet" on the 2 percent raise.
Scott Southward, director of internal communications and public affairs for NMSU, said if the agreement, the details of which are not all public, is approved, "the raise will be retroactive, as of July 1." Southward said after New Mexico lawmakers approved the 2 percent hike, the union reopened negotiations on wages to shoot for a 5 percent raise.
Arispe said an analysis commissioned by the union found 84 percent of the 1,244 employees represented by the union earned less than $30,000 a year and that salaries for hourly employee were 30 percent below market value -- something
she called "dispiriting."
Southward said union members "have never shared such results of such analyses" with Human Resources, which has contracted for its own compensation analysis (those results will not be ready until the end of the year). When it comes to low pay, university administrators "understand that there has been a concern about that," Southward said. "They do, obviously, recognize that this is an issue for NMSU employees."
Arispe also claims the union had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get mailing information for hourly employees -- a claim NMSU firmly denies. Southward said the union was given that information voluntarily and in a timely manner: After reaching the agreement July 15, Human Resources provided the union with contact information for the vote, which has an Aug. 4 deadline.
Arispe said the mindset of the university is unfair. While she said the university has seen increasing revenue for the past five years, "a lot of us struggle day-to-day." Arispe, who said she grosses below $21,000 a year after 10 years at NMSU, said some members earn as little as $15,000.
"Last year, when we were struggling for a 5 percent raise, (the board of regents) gave (outgoing President Mike Martin) a 14 percent raise," she said. "How can you justify that?"
In an e-mail, Martin said his salary is driven by the national market for administrators -- not the local market of the union's hourly employees -- and that his raise was partially a response to the contract given to the University of New Mexico's president.
"State statute makes it clear that (AFSCME members) get what the Legislature appropriates unless the university makes funds available to all, which we did. This year, they would have only gotten 2 percent under statute and by provision of their contract, had we not made additional raises possible for all," Martin wrote, noting that New Mexico is "not a public union-friendly state. Anyone who looks at the law can see that."
Ashley Meeks can be reached at [email protected]
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