It takes day passion and dedication to make things better for the thousands of people working as staff at the University of New Mexico. At UNM it has taken a succession of impassioned people willing to build on the work of others to reach common goals for workers who function in a variety of work environments.
UNM employs more than 6,000 staff members at the main campus in Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Hospital, Health Sciences Center and branch campuses in Gallup, Los Alamos, Taos and Valencia County. The groups frequently have different issues of interest, but the UNM Staff Council has led the way in changing university policies to improve working conditions overall.
The Staff Council started as an alternative to unionization in 1990. University Leadership was willing to work with a council on issues and staff members accepted the council concept as a way to resolve concerns.
Former Staff Council President Gene Henley said the Staff Council reminds decision makers that staff is an important part of the equation governing UNM. “Nothing happens here without us. The doors don’t open. The bills don’t get paid. The grounds don’t get cleaned. The classrooms aren’t ready. The books aren’t ordered. If staff are not here, nothing can happen.”
Since its inception, Staff Council has persuaded UNM to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act in accordance with federal law and to adopt policies that recognize domestic partners, allowing them to be placed on health insurance and use tuition remission programs. The council worked hard to get a university-wide job reclassification completed so staff members who do the same work are classified the same way in the university compensation system.
The council was able to have staff included on the Faculty/Staff Benefits Committee. Council members helped write and implement a catastrophic leave policy, and convinced the university to open the policy review process to include staff members.
Over the years, the most often recurring concern is the differential in pay raises between staff and faculty. Staff Council has worked hard to try to ensure that the percentage of pay increases for faculty and staff are the same. Henley said, “During recent years, when resources were tight and decisions were made as to how to allocate those resources, there had to be some recognition of the various roles, whether it is student, faculty or staff. If that isn’t there, a critical voice isn’t heard, and decisions are made without really understanding their impact or their implications on an important group.”
Current Staff Council President Renée Delgado-Riley is taking the council to the next level by implementing a strategic plan. Over the past year she has conducted focus groups with staff members to listen to concerns. Delgado-Riley sees her job as a catalyst. “I function as an advocate. I work to remind people about the important issues for staff.” The strategic plan will be released March 17 to commemorate the 25th anniversary as well as to show the council constituents and shareholders where its energy and efforts will be invested for the next five years.
Kathy Meadows serves as Staff Council administrative officer. She is seeing a change in the issues that most concern staff. Where once staff members wanted recognition and strongly supported events like the annual staff picnic, now people are more concerned about professional and academic development. Meadows said staff members now want to focus on ways to move up within the university and are interested in better career pathways and employee benefits.
Delgado-Riley says she is proud of the changes that Staff Council has been able to bring to university policy and the environment in the past 25 years. Now with the new strategic plan, she hopes to help mark a pathway for the coming years.