Supporters of right-to-work legislation in New Mexico were dealt a big blow Wednesday when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a bill to prohibit counties from passing their own right-to-work laws. Compulsory union fees in the public sector was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2018, but private sector unions can still require workers to pay union fees. It’s against the law for all unions to require workers to pay dues, but they can collect fees to pay for the wage and benefit bargaining. With the governor’s signature, House Bill 85—sponsored by Democratic Reps. Daymon Ely of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe—invalidates resolutions passed, over a span of about 14 months in 10 New Mexico counties and one village, that barred union membership as a condition of employment.
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.
A recently-minor political party in New Mexico may being seeing its first indication of political growing pains. At the very least, the Libertarian Party of New Mexico has shown that even a once-fringe party is not immune from accusations of impropriety. A former state Libertarian Party chair filed a formal complaint Monday against the New Mexico party alleging certain members violated state law, rendering its current candidates “illegitimate.”
Former party chair Elizabeth Honce filed the complaint with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, along with affidavits from five other people who were present at the convention. They recounted an act during the party’s 2017 state convention she says violated state law. In 2017, Honce said, some party members changed the convention schedule, effectively staging a coup d’état for a new group of party leadership.
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.
On the surface, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s proposed changes to campaign finance reporting rules appear to be a wonky topic. But to some outspoken opponents it’s a free speech violation. Burly Cain, the New Mexico state director of Americans for Prosperity, compared the proposed changes to forcing an 80-year-old woman to “wear an armband to say what she believes on her arm.”
Officials with the secretary of state’s office say they are simply attempting to update outdated sections of the state’s Campaign Reporting Act that are no longer legally valid after high-profile court decisions. This includes the state law definition of “political committee,” which is broadly defined as two or more people who are “selected, appointed, chosen, associated, organized or operated primarily” for influencing an election or political convention. This definition was found to be “unconstitutionally broad” in New Mexico Youth Organized v. Herrera, a 2009 court case, according to Secretary of State Chief Information Officer Kari Fresquez.
The Libertarian Party of New Mexico’s membership numbers are now high enough to qualify the group for major party status. Now that determination lies on how many votes former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson receives on election night in the state. If Johnson wins five percent of the vote in New Mexico, the state’s Libertarian Party could have a nominee on the next gubernatorial ballot. Libertarian Party of New Mexico Director Burly Cain told NM Political Report voters are finding it increasingly difficult to find a candidate they agree with, especially during this election cycle. “Many people in this election cycle are finding that they are looking for underlying principles that match their political ideals,” Cain said.