close
close

University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center employees overcome overwhelming odds to win an IAM vote in their workplace

University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center employees overcome overwhelming odds to win an IAM vote in their workplace

Hospital workers in New Mexico stood strong for their right to vote to form a union. In mid-2021, employees at the University of New Mexico (UNM) Sandoval Regional Medical Center (SRMC) were disgusted with hospital management and staffing shortages that were negatively impacting patient care, while workplace issues were ignored. As a result of the boardAfter refusing to even acknowledge, much less address, SRMC employee concerns, employees turned to unions to improve patient care and their workplace.

In late 2021, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) united to form the United Healthcare Professionals of New Mexico (UHPNM) to assist SRMC employees. This historic and revolutionary collaboration is a testament to solidarity and demonstrates the two organizations’ commitment to empowering workers to organize.

In early 2022, SRMC attempted to halt unionization by making the unhinged legal argument to the state labor board that they are not part of the University of New Mexico; therefore, the employees were not subject to collective bargaining under state law. Furthermore, the hospital made the wild claim that since they were governed by an irregular and controversial law called the University Research Park and Economic Development Act (URPEDA), this allowed them to be both a private employer and a public employer, and that its employees had no right to join a union even under the NLRA.

In response, a UHPNM team was immediately assembled and led by 794 local president and director of business representative Ashley Long, along with then-Grand Lodge representative Gary E. Allen. Their mission was to go to Santa Fe to legislatively change the law and fight for SRMC employees’ right to unionize as government employees. After months of working tirelessly to ensure that the amended union URPEDA bill would successfully pass the legislature, the unions successfully amended the law, granting SRMC workers the right to unionize to close under the Public Employees Bargaining Act.

On May 18, 2022, the IAM submitted an application to the state board to represent the maintenance classifications at SRMC. The new bargaining unit consists of various classifications, from security to PARs, registration representatives, schedulers, kitchen staff, housekeeping/EVS, maintenance/facilities, materials and others. Without hesitation, SRMC challenged the unit’s eligibility. These challenges went through the state labor board all the way to district court. At every turn, the challenges were met by the IAM, and the steadfast efforts of its members prevailed.

SRMC’s management responded to each IAM victory and continued to threaten and intimidate many of its employees for supporting the union while at the same time violating employees’ legal rights. SRMC went so far as to fire both the internal leaders of the IAM and the AFT. The IAM has filed several charges before the state government in defense of its members and to combat the illegal and anti-union actions of the SRMC management against its employees. Of all the lawsuits before the state board, the IAM won at every point. These victories angered SRMC and motivated them to appeal to the district court, where the IAM was once again able to secure victory after victory for SRMC’s members. On January 31, 2024, after a long, grueling battle, the new members of IAMAW Local Lodge 794 ratified a new initial agreement, increasing their job security and increasing wages while emphasizing patient care. After a two-year struggle, they have secured a voice in their workplace. This contract marks one of the first acute care hospitals organized and ratified in the IAM’s recent history.

“Thank you to the IAM Local 794 team for their relentless lobbying efforts to change the law, their bold actions to protect workers and their disciplined approach to negotiations,” said Gary R. Allen, general vice president of IAM Western Territory . “First of all, we would like to thank the new members for their continued courage to acquire a better way of life.”

“We knew coming in that this was one of the most anti-union employers in the state,” said chief negotiator Gary E. Allen. “If we were to win a first contract, we would be in for a long battle. SRMC used every anti-union tactic in the book, from firing our leads to filing frivolous charges to bad faith and superficial negotiations. I am extremely proud of our membership. I am extremely proud of our membership, SRMC has opposed us at every turn, but the members have never lost confidence and instead have pushed back every attack.”

“The fact that we were able to win our first contract is truly remarkable,” said PDBR Ashley Long. “The membership never gave up and we put constant pressure on the employer. We have used all available resources to fight for our new members. The main reason we won is the solidarity we managed to build within the ranks.”