February 10, 2016

Right-to-work dies in first committee

A controversial bill that took many hours of debate last year saw an accelerated but long and heated debate before dying this time.

DSC_0044Five 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.

When a lawmaker asked if fair share fees pay for his salary, Condit said partially.

“If I am organizing or engaging other workers, that is considered non-chargeable,” he said. “If I am involved in advocating for employees in my bargaining unit, that is considered chargeable.”

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and sponsor of the bill, argued that the measure was modest and wouldn’t bust unions.

“It’s not a panacea,” Moores said. “It’s also bit a Darth Maul lightsaber stab to the heart of unions.”

Public speakers for and against the bill gave the familiar arguments. Pro-business groups said the measure would help attract businesses to the state, arguing that many site selectors immediately write-off locating to the state because it’s not right-to-work, a claim that remains disputed.

Union representatives spoke against the bill, saying it would lower working conditions and wages if it passed into law.

Not all unions in New Mexico practice fair share agreements, which are made during collective bargaining negotiations that both unions and management agree to. Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, referred to the process as “the ability of people to come to an agreement by themselves.”

Ivey-Soto said the bill eliminates the definition of “fair share” but “interestingly does not include the definition of a freeloader,” referring to a term pro-union advocates sometimes use to describe workers in a bargaining unit who don’t pay union dues but benefit from union contracts.

He criticized a provision in the bill calling on the state to investigate forced union fees as “siccing the state on people for daring to come to an agreement amongst themselves.”

Paul Gessing, executive director of pro-market Rio Grande Foundation and expert witness for the bill, responded by arguing that the fair share process is akin to a business owner coercing workers to do things they don’t want to do.

Now likely dead for the remainder of the session, the bill wasn’t introduced this year in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where it passed last year.