February 20, 2020

Collective bargaining bill passes Senate

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Laura Paskus

The full state Senate passed a bill in the wee hours of Wednesday morning that proponents say would better protect workers and provide more consistency to New Mexico’s collective bargaining laws.

The bill’s supporters say it will update and modernize its Public Employees Bargaining Act, which they call one of the weakest in the U.S. The legislation provides a timeline for the Land of Enchantment to restructure and standardize its unusual system of 52 local labor boards, which proponents say currently leads to inconsistent labor policy.

Republican senators pushed the debate on House Bill 364 nearly three hours, picking apart the bill and aiming repeated complaints and criticisms at Sen. Mimi Stewart, who introduced it on the floor. The legislation eventually passed 24-17, largely along party lines, although one prominent Democrat voted against it.

“It’s time to look at [the law] and change it, be thoughtful about it, and that’s what we’re trying to offer tonight,” said Stewart, D-Albuquerque.

The bill now heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk.

The legislation had a long and bizarre journey to the Senate floor. It was originally introduced as Senate Bill 110, which was tabled in the Judiciary Committee and then revived with revisions and sent to  Senate Finance.

Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton then introduced an identical bill in the House under the inconspicuous title “Public Peace, Health, Safety and Welfare.”

That’s the sign of a so-called “dummy bill,” basically a blank placeholder with a generic name so that content can be added belatedly. That content was indeed added, and House Bill 364 sailed through the House.

Republicans on the Senate floor were upset with how that process went down.

“I think this is very concerning,” said Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell. “The public should be aware of how this happened and the speed in which it did, and I don’t think it’s in the public’s best interest.”

Republicans also criticized the bill for trying to shut down labor boards.

Stewart said, “We’re only trying to do away with local boards that aren’t working, that aren’t functioning.”

The legislation would add a clause to labor laws protecting “concerted activities,” which can include circulating petitions asking for better hours and talking with colleagues about wages.

Stewart added the bill had been “very thoroughly vetted by cities, counties, superintendents of schools.

“Public employees — from teachers and truck drivers to sanitation workers and police officers — deserve the best possible process to negotiate fair wages and safe workplaces,” she said.