University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center Employees Overcome Overwhelming Odds to Win an IAM Voice in their Workplace

New Mexico hospital workers held strong for their right to vote to form a union. In mid-2021, University of New Mexico (UNM) Sandoval Regional Medical Center (SRMC) employees were disgusted with hospital management and staffing shortages that were negatively affecting patient care, along with workplace issues being ignored. As a result of managements refusal to even acknowledge, much less remedy the SRMC employees’ concerns, workers turned to unionization 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) joined together and created the United Healthcare Professionals of New Mexico (UHPNM) to help the SRMC employees. This historical and revolutionary collaboration is a testament to solidarity and demonstrates the commitment of the two organizations to empower workers to organize.

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

In response, a UHPNM team was immediately assembled and led by Local 794 President and Directing Business Representative Ashley Long, along with then then-Grand Lodge Representative Gary E. Allen. Their mission was to head to Santa Fe to legislatively change the law and fight for the SRMC employees’ right to unionize as public employees. After months of working tirelessly to make sure that the union’s amended URPEDA law navigated successfully through the legislature, the unions successfully changed the law, giving the SRMC employees the right to unionize under the Public Employees Bargaining Act.

By May 18, 2022, the IAM filed at the state board to represent the servicing classifications at SRMC. The new bargaining unit is composed of several different classifications from Security to PAR’s, Registration Reps, Schedulers, Kitchen Staff, Housekeeping/EVS, Maintenance/Utilities, Materials, and others. With no hesitation, SRMC challenged the appropriateness of the unit. Those challenges went through the state labor board all the way to district court. At every juncture, the challenges were met by the IAM, and the steadfast commitment of the members prevailed.

SRMC management reacted to every IAM victory and continued to threaten and intimidate many of its employees for supporting the union all while violating the employees’ legal rights. SRMC even went as far as to fire both the IAM’s and AFT’s internal leads. The IAM filed several state board charges in defense of the membership and to combat SRMC managements’ illegal and anti-union actions towards its employees. Of all the litigation at the state board, the IAM was victorious at every turn. These victories angered SRMC and motivated them to appeal to the district court where yet again the IAM was able to secure victory after victory for the members at SRMC. On Jan. 31, 2024, after a long grueling fight the new IAMAW Local Lodge 794 members ratified a new first agreement, enhancing their job security and increased wages while emphasizing patient care. After a two-year battle, they have secured a voice in their workplace. This contract marks one of the first acute care hospitals organized and ratified in recent history of the IAM.

“Thanks to the IAM Local 794 team for their unrelenting efforts of lobbying to change the law, their stalwart actions protecting the employees, and their disciplined approach to negotiations,” said IAM Western Territory General Vice President Gary R. Allen. “Most of all, thanks to the new members for their unrelenting courage to obtain a better way of life.”

“We knew going in that this was one of the most anti-union employers in the state,” said Chief Negotiator Gary E. Allen. “If we were going to get a first contract, we were in for a lengthy battle. SRMC used every anti-union tactic in the book, from firing our leads to filing frivolous charges to engaging in bad faith and surface bargaining. I am extremely proud of our membership, SRMC obstructed us at every turn, but the members never lost faith and instead fought back every attack.”

“The fact that we were able to get a first contract is truly remarkable,” said PDBR Ashley Long. “The membership never relented, and we applied continuous pressure to the employer. We used all the tools available to us to fight for our new members. The main reason we won is the solidarity we were able to build within the ranks.”

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