House Committee members were part of a marathon committee meeting on Thursday that ultimately ended with an 8-5 vote to pass a right-to-work bill.
Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, presented his HB 75 to the House Business and Employment Committee in a hearing that lasted nearly five hours. The bill would bar employers from requiring union membership from employees as a term of employment.
Along with Roch were Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and his expert witness Paul Gessing, the director of the free-market think tank, the Rio Grande Foundation.
Sanchez told the committee he was there on behalf of Gov. Susana Martinez and insisted that right-to-work legislation is not an attempt to disband unions, but instead to help New Mexico workers.
“This is not anti-union,” Sanchez said. “It protects workers and how they protect hard earned money.”
Both Roch and Gessing presented their case for why the legislation should pass. Roch citedThomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence as reasons why workers should be able to decide whether they join a union or not.
“A pursuit of a career should not have limitations,” Roch told the committee.
Gessing followed up with figures he said show why right-to-work is better for New Mexico. He said aerospace companies like Airbus and airplane manufacturers like Boeing tend to set up factories in states with right-to-work laws on the books.
After Roch and Gessing presented their case in favor of right-to-work legislation, the committee chair, Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Albuquerque, allowed public comment. Initially, she announced that she would limit public comment to 90 minutes but ultimately allowed almost two and a half hours of public comments.
The number of people who spoke out against the Employee Preference Act greatly exceeded the number who were in support of it. About 40-50 people lined up to speak out against the proposed legislation and less than 20 people expressed support for the bill.
Most of those in support of the legislation were business owners or business advocacy groups. The common argument from the supporters was they do not oppose unions and unions would not go away or be weakened by this legislation.
The arguments against the bill mostly came from union members who said unions already protect workers and that right-to-work is a way to lower wages.
Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, later asked Roch for a list of companies that did not come to New Mexico because of the lack of a right-to-work law.
Roch’s said that companies do not generally use right-to-work as a deciding factor, but instead use it as a “gate keeper.” He said many companies will eliminate non-right-to-work states before they ever start looking.
Eventually, the committee voted 8-5 to send the bill on to the judiciary committee. Rep. Dona Irwin , D-Deming, was the only Democratic lawmaker to vote in favor of the measure. All Republicans voted for passage.
Roch said he is going to focus on doing more research in order to answer a new round of questions.
“I anticipate [the Judiciary Committee] may focus a little more on the judicial aspect, I’m going to do some more homework myself,” Roch said. “There were some great questions from this committee I need to be prepared to answer them.”