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.
Paul Gessing is the president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a libertarian non-profit based in New Mexico. Tamara Kay and Gorden Lafer re-hashed many of their arguments against the Rio Grande Foundation and its work in support of “right to work” in New Mexico. These two use a bunch of fancy rhetoric to attack our research as “unscientific,” but fail to embrace simple logic. As a sign of their alleged statistical prowess – with no relevance whatsoever to “right to work” — the “dynamic duo” claim that supporters of right to work are doing the equivalent of arguing that “because people with larger shoe sizes are more likely to have heart attacks, big shoes must cause heart attacks.”
I scoured the Internet for something, anything, to verify the statement that people with big feet are at greater risk for heart attacks. Interestingly, Kay and Lafer are flat-wrong even about this silly non-sequiter: according to a 2015 CBS News story, compared with a 6-foot-tall person, someone who is 5 feet tall could have a 60 percent higher risk for coronary heart disease.
Tamara Kay is an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico. Gordon Lafer is an associate professor at the University of Oregon. Despite being dealt a death blow in the state Senate at the final hour during the last legislative session, proponents of right-to-work laws are at it again. What was most alarming about last year’s debate was how lobbyists manipulated facts to propel their pet bills through the legislature. The head of the Rio Grande Foundation (RGF), Paul Gessing, promoted bogus research reports to legislators and the public that no credible statistician or social scientist would ever put their name on, suggesting that right-to-work laws increase economic growth, jobs and personal income.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, responded to Gov. Susana Martinez’ State of the State address earlier on Tuesday afternoon with heated words. And he didn’t save all of his frustration for Republicans. See Also: Gov. Susana Martinez’s State of the State Address
“Once again, for the news media, especially the television news media, let me make it clear once and for all: You don’t need a passport to get on an airplane in the state of New Mexico,” Sanchez said to members of the media. “That’s false, and those reporters who report that are wrong.”
Sanchez then referred to how an official from the federal Department of Homeland Security wrote a letter to the editor in response to a November Albuquerque Journal editorial that stated New Mexicans would not be able to use a state driver’s license to board commercial flights “later next year” because of the state’s noncompliance with the federal Real ID Act. The federal government, at that point, had not provided a deadline for when New Mexico driver’s licenses would stop being valid in airports.
Gov. Susana Martinez pledged Thursday to put at least two non-budget items on the call this coming legislative session. Speaking on a panel with members of the local business community, Martinez said she will allow legislators to introduce bills on changing driver’s licenses and barring mandatory union agency fees as a condition of work, sometimes called right to work. Martinez has made ending New Mexico’s practice of allowing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants one of her top priorities for five years. But she took a notable shift in her rhetoric about the issue in her comments at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque, saying for the first time that she’d support a two-tiered system that still allows driver’s permits for undocumented immigrants. “An illegal immigrant should not receive a driver’s license that looks like mine or yours,” Martinez said.
Following a memorial for those lost in the attacks of September 11, union members gathered for a press conference to address issues regarding first responders and collective bargaining. The union members gathered in a conference room in an Albuquerque hotel on Friday afternoon. At issue was a case set to go before the U.S. Supreme Court. Friedrichs v. California Teachers concerns whether union employees are required to pay “fair share.” These are payments from non-union personnel who would benefit from union bargaining. Public sector union members and their supporters have argued that first responders will suffer without a strong collective bargaining unit.