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New Mexico has never been a state that was kind to unions or workers. Although Southern New Mexico was the site of the famous strike against Empire Zinc that was memorialized in the film Salt of the Earth, unions have found the state a hard row to hoe. Industries like mining have had captive worker audiences and a two-tiered workforce; populations of workers have been welcomed into farm fields when labor forces were scanty and then kicked back out again when times got tougher.

But I bring you good news! Last night, New Mexico State's 1300 non-exempt workers became part of AFSCME through a union vote.

More on the flip.

New Mexico State University is located in Las Cruces, 45 miles north of El Paso. It is in the part of the state that people tend to forget about--the Chihuahan desert, barren in most places, and in others dotted with chile fields and pecan orchards. Las Cruces itself is a blue dot within a red Congressional district. We've got a very conservative farming and ranching population, a congressman with one of the worst records in Congress right now (Steve Pearce). As a result of all this, despite the fact that Bill Richardson, our governor, is nominally a Democrat, the regents of the University came out hard against unionization.

The school's administrators denied rooms at lunchtime to employees who wanted to talk union. They told employees that they could not use their university email to talk union, or receive union-related information in their university mailboxes. The lowest-paid secretaries at NMSU make somewhere around $14,000 a year--could you live on that? They pay more for their health insurance than any other state-employed workers in New Mexico. But still the Administration insisted to these hard working men and women, janitors and secretaries and library workers, that a union would be against their best interests. And in a state where people don't know much about what the union movement has been able to accomplish over the past couple hundred years, this disinformation campaign might have suceeded. Faculty members combatted it as much as we could--I am a labor historian and I gave seminars and classes on labor history and on the union movement in New Mexico. But when it came time to cast the ballots, each man and woman was on his or her own.

Bucking a hierarchy that is social as much as it is organizational, these janitors and secretaries and library workers raised their voices and voted, and they voted UNION YES!

Originally posted to ChuyHChrist on Thu Jun 01, 2006 at 09:58 AM PDT.

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