By: Daniel Montaño, Staff Reporter | Photo By: Daniel Montaño
The CNM Employees Union is sending a clear message to the American Federation of Teachers: unless AFT of New Mexico provides more services and support, CNMEU is going to leave the federation, said Andy Tibble, Reading instructor and president of CNMEU.
On Saturday June 8 at the Center for Peace and Justice at 202 Harvard Drive SE, CNMEU voted to leave AFT, by a margin of more than four to one. The union also passed a motion to defer the separation for a year in order to give AFTNM a chance to meet CNMEU’s expectations, Tibble said.
“I’m feeling good about the vote today. We got a very strong vote for a course of action that I think is a very prudent one.
Yes, we’re still willing to disaffiliate, but we want to give AFT an opportunity to address our concerns and we realize that in order to really do that it’s going to take a while. It’s not something that can be done in a week or two,” Tibble said.
Tibble said that CNMEU has had to handle most of its own negotiations, bargaining, and arbitrations without assistance from AFTNM and has been generally disappointed with the service that AFTNM has provided, especially in the recent case of Steve Cormier, a CNM instructor who many CNMEU members have said was unjustly fired.
Additionally, the membership dues that CNMEU pays to AFT have been rising over the past few years and now consume 90 percent of CNMEU’s budget, leaving little at the local chapter’s disposal, Tibble said.
“It just sort of came to a head, we had to look at other options. We can’t continue to pay a large percentage of our dues money to an organization that’s not really as effective as we’d like to see it,” Tibble said.
Once talk of disaffiliation started to spread, after CNMEU went to mediation in the meeting, AFT representatives started making phone calls to CNMEU members and showing up to their homes to discuss the benefits of remaining with the federation, Tibble said.
Shep Jenks, Anthropology instructor, was one of the many members who were visited by the AFT and said that he was disappointed that the AFT was only willing to spend money when they risked losing a chapter.
“The rep that visited me came from Houston; my friend had a guy from Pennsylvania. In airplane tickets and compensation alone they had to be spending thousands of dollars to visit as many members as they did. So it’s obvious that when AFT wants to they can muster enormous resources, but with the Steve Cormier case we had to come begging and pleading for help and still didn’t receive any money from state,” he said.
AFTNM devotes a large portion of its resources to the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, which is comprised of Albuquerque’s K-12 teachers, and Tibble said he is seeking a restructure of AFTNM that will have more focus on the state’s colleges.
AFTNM will have to show a commitment to helping out smaller, higher education unions like CNMEU, which has only about 300 members compared to ATF’s 3800, by providing new staff and reforming policies that shift service away from smaller unions, Tibble said.
“One of the things that we will be looking for is a field representative that’s dedicated to higher-education I think that would be a reasonable proposal to make. That person would have to be knowledgeable and an expert in higher-ed issues and currently they really don’t have a person that fills that roll,” Tibble said.
Prior to the vote, AFT National President Randi Weingarten and Tibble struck a verbal agreement that if CNMEU waited to disaffiliate for a year then the AFT would work on implementing changes to AFTNM’s structure and would waive CNMEU’s state membership dues, Tibble said.
Now that the vote has passed, AFT national has a week to put the verbal agreement between Tibble and Weingarten on paper or the CNMEU will become completely independent, but Tibble said he is not worried that it will come to that.
“We just need to make sure that what we’ve discussed in conversation is going to be something that we can count on in writing,” he said
Stephanie Ly, president of AFTNM, spoke at the meeting on Saturday and said she expected the votes to turn out how they did.
AFTNM is willing to work with CNMEU to achieve a compromise on the fine points of what the CNMEU wants, particularly since Tibble has shown he is willing to work with the AFT by taking Weingarten’s offer on deferment, Ly said.
“We have been trying to work out a deal with them for months now, so we’re happy that they are actually taking on a deal,” Ly said.
Although CNMEU did pass the motion to defer disaffiliation, they will remain largely self-governed for the next year, which Peter Lundman English instructor and CNMEU treasurer, said is one of the things union members had been hoping for.
“It gives us the experience of autonomy, which is what we asked for a year ago. The state was unable to give it to us but apparently national is going to make it happen,” Lundman said.
If after a year period AFTNM hasn’t shown appropriate changes, the CNMEU will be allowed to leave the federation without a legal fight from AFT, Tibble said.
Peter Kalitsis, Architectural Drafting instructor, said that if the union becomes independent he thinks it will remain strong because of the money being saved in due fees and the year of preparation they will have before fully leaving the AFT.
“We have strong leadership with a vision for the future. This gives them time to prepare and to show that we are very strong,” Kalitsis said.
Nariman Arafi, Psychology instructor, said he hopes for full independence from the AFT after a year because he is tired of the higher education community being unrepresented by AFTNM and CNM instructors having to deal with under-instructed students coming from APS.
“APS says ‘we are going to send you the students who cannot read or write, can’t add two plus two and your higher education has to deal with it.’ No! No more, we will stand up for our own rights from now on,” Arafi said.