The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that public sector labor unions can no longer mandate fees from the workers they represent. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Mark Janus, an Illinois man who argued he should not be required to pay fees for contract negotiations between the union and his employer. In New Mexico, the debate over mandatory union fees goes back decades, but has seen a resurgence in the past few years when Republicans began trying to pass right-to-work laws, or laws banning union fees as a term of employment. More recently, Americans for Prosperity New Mexico (AFP-NM) began lobbying counties to pass right-to-work laws in the private sector. With this ruling, public sector labor unions must immediately stop collecting fees beyond dues which are paid by members who voluntarily join.
CARRIZOZO, N.M.—The home of Billy the Kid and Smokey Bear is now the third county in New Mexico to pass a right-to-work ordinance. All five Lincoln County Commissioners voted to pass the ordinance on Tuesday after less than an hour of public comment and no remarks from the commissioners themselves, except for the few words spoken during the vote. While the commissioners had little to say about right-to-work during the public meeting, the audience was peppered with political and elected officials. Lincoln County Clerk Rhonda Burrows, Carrizozo Municipal Schools Superintendent Ricky Espinoza, Ruidoso Village Councilor Joseph Eby, 2nd Congressional District candidate Gavin Clarkson and New Mexico state Rep. Greg Nibert supported the measure during the public comment period of the meeting. At the meeting, 12th District Attorney John Sugg also offered more than just his verbal support.
As the issue of compulsory union dues and fees for public employees is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, one New Mexico activist group is jumping from county to county, pushing local lawmakers to ban unions from requiring money to represent private sector workers. The libertarian non-profit Americans for Prosperity announced its reentry into New Mexico politics about a year ago. Funded by David and Charles Koch, Americans for Prosperity is a 501(c)(4), which means most of the group’s work has to focus on advocacy or education, rather than support or opposition of specific political candidates. Other groups with the same tax category include the American Civil Liberties Union, AARP and the National Rifle Association. In New Mexico supporters of right-to-work laws haven’t been able to pass a statewide right-to-work law for decades.
Commissioners approved a county-level right-to-work ordinance even as detractors promised to sue. Early Friday morning, the Sandoval County Commission voted 3-1 to make the county the first to implement a right-to-work ordinance. Previous efforts at the statewide level repeatedly failed, while a citywide effort in Clovis decades ago was struck down by a federal court. “This is our time to lead the state,” ordinance sponsor Jay Block said in arguing for the ordinance. He said the bill would bring better wages, more jobs and would, in fact, help unions by increasing their rolls.
The Sandoval County Commission’s effort to impose a right-to-work ordinance at the county level may have run into a roadblock: the pile of cash it would cost the county to defend itself against promised lawsuits.. But in a late-night vote, the commission voted 4-1 to publish the proposed ordinance’s legislation, putting in motion the process for passage of the ordinance. When enacted, right-to-work laws stop employers from entering into agreements with workers that require they be a member of a labor union or that non-union members pay union dues, known as “fair share” as a condition of employment. County Commission Chairman Don Chapman said he supported right-to-work, but was concerned about the cost of litigation. During the meeting he read aloud an email from the county attorney explaining that the county would be sued—and that it is “very likely we will lose the lawsuit” at both the federal district court and circuit court of appeals level.
A Sandoval County Commission meeting attracted a boisterous crowd Thursday night, as passions ran high over a proposed right-to-work ordinance. The capacity crowd remained mostly respectful, at least until after public comment and once the commissioners began speaking. One commissioner compared unions to the mafia and then singled out a teacher who commented earlier and blamed teachers unions for poor education of students. Right-to-work laws, which are in place in more than half the states in the country, bar unions from imposing mandatory fees on workers. The proposed ordinance would not apply to current companies and unions in the county.
A big, vocal crowd is expected at a Sandoval County Commission meeting Thursday night to discuss an issue usually raised at a state level: Right-to-work. Republicans raised right to work proposals at the New Mexico State Legislature in 2015 and 2016, but were unable to pass any laws stopping unions from imposing mandatory fees on workers. Now, advocates are pushing for it at the county level. And Sandoval County is poised to be the first salvo in a bruising battle that will likely end up in the courts. Advocates like Americans for Prosperity raised the issue in Sandoval County and commissioners are expected to start the process toward passing the ordinance on Tuesday.
New Mexico will not become the nation’s 29th “right-to-work” state, at least not this year. After testimony Saturday from a long line of union members and nearly two hours of debate, Democrats on a committee of the state House of Representatives killed a Republican bill that would have prohibited unions from imposing mandatory fees on workers. Republicans argue such policies take money from workers who do not wish to join a union. Republican lawmakers also say banning compulsory union fees would create a better business environment, drawing investors and boosting employment. Opponents counter that such a law would push down wages and unfairly require labor unions to represent workers for free.
One of the key districts New Mexico Republicans need to take the state Senate back sits just north of Albuquerque in Rio Rancho, where incumbent Democrat John Sapien faces GOP challenger Diego Espinoza. Sapien, an insurance salesman who is running for his third term, won both the 2008 and 2012 elections on narrow margins—by just 121 votes and 161 votes respectively. Sapien’s latest challenger, Espinoza, has so far outstripped him in fundraising, gathering roughly $153,000 as of press time compared to Sapien’s $126,000. Both speak of job creation as the top priority of their candidacies. But each have different solutions.
A controversial bill that took many hours of debate last year saw an accelerated but long and heated debate before dying this time. Five Democrats in Senate Public Affairs Committee voted to table what supporters call “right-to-work” legislation Tuesday evening, overriding the four Republicans who voted to keep the bill alive. The bill would have barred “fair share” union payments, which can be required in some jobs for nonunion employees who work in a collective bargaining unit. Unlike union dues, fair share fees pay for the negotiating a union does on the collective bargaining unit’s behalf. Brian Condit, a political coordinator for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, testified that fair share fees can’t include “nonchargeable” union activities like organizing, political activity and union education.