March 8, 2015

Senate committee hears from public on right-to-work bills

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The Roundhouse Rotunda. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

A Senate committee heard public comment on a handful of bills related to labor unions on Sunday afternoon.

The Senate Public Affairs Committee heard two hours of public testimony on three different right-to-work bills and another aimed at changing how unions with limited members operate.

The Roundhouse Rotunda. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

The Roundhouse Rotunda. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

Three other bills that were presented in the committee have ‘Employee Preference’ in the title and propose to allow employees the choice to pay for union negotiations or not. While it is already illegal for employers to require union membership as a term of employment, some employees have to pay what is known as ‘fair share’.

Those in favor of right-to-work legislation have argued that employees should be able to choose whether they pay the union for representation. Opponents of the legislation have said unions are essential for worker well-being and unions cannot operate without employees paying for health care and other services.

Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, presented his HB 75 which went through two committee meetings and a lengthy floor debate in the House before passage.

Roch’s version was changed in the committee process to include a minimum wage increase to $8.00 an hour and a section that would eliminate the minimum wage increase if the right-to-work portion is deemed unconstitutional in court. Roch told the committee he supports the right to join unions, but added that the right to not join is just as important.

He said the legislation is important  to job growth in the state.

“We need to focus on creating jobs, not diminishing jobs,” Roch said.

Senate Minority Floor Leader, Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, presented their bills alongside Roch. The two Senate bills are similar to the House bill, but do not have a minimum wage increase tied to them.

Committee Chair Gerald Ortiz Y Pino, D-Albuquerque, allotted two hours for audience members to present their case to the panel. He said the committee would not vote on the bills until Tuesday, the next scheduled meeting of the committee.

Many of the speakers, both in favor and and opposition, also spoke at previous house committees where HB 75 was heard.

Justin Najaka, director of the State Personnel Office, told the committee that some workers have told him that they support right-to-work, but do not speak out because they are afraid of retaliation from the unions.

Najaka made the same point in a House committee hearing. He told the panel of senators that he does not oppose unions, but that workers should be able to choose whether to join.

“Good for them, if they want to join,” Najaka said of union members.

Among the supporters were representatives of business organizations who also spoke at previous committee meetings.

The opposition also consisted of previous speakers, most of them union members.

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alan Webber listed various reasons why he sees right-to-work as bad for the state, but said he opposed it for one specific reason.

“It is a bad business strategy,” Webber said.

In addition to the right-to-work bills, Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, presented her SB 472 which would allow the dissolvement of a union bargaining unit by a non-union member.

Wilson Beffort told the committee of a bargaining unit of police officers in the town of Moriarty that does not have any members. Under current law, any negotiations or attempts at dissolving the group has to be done by union members members.  Wilson Beffort’s expert witness, Moriarty Mayor Ted Hart, told the committee that he is unable to discuss contracts or negotiations with officers because they are not union members.

After almost two hours of testimony, committee members thanked the audience for being civil in their presentations and Ortiz Y Pino said the group would further debate the issue and possibly vote on Tuesday.

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