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 proposal to raise the hourly minimum wage in New Mexico to $9 won the backing Monday of a Senate committee as well as business and labor groups. But with several bills floating around the Capitol this year to give at least a slight boost to the earnings of New Mexico’s lowest-paid workers, agreement still seems elusive on how high the state’s minimum wage should go and what strings should be attached. In a 5-3 vote, the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee approved Senate Bill 386, which would raise the hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 but allow employers to pay new hires a training wage of $8 per hour for up to two months. The bill would also raise the minimum wage for tipped employees, such as waitresses and baristas, from $2.13 to $2.63. A major public employees union, New Mexico Voices for Children and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce have backed the proposal, seeing it as a compromise that would ensure at least some increase in pay for low-wage workers while also proving palatable to some in the business community.
In a shake-up of state government, Gov. Susana Martinez has ordered agencies throughout New Mexico’s bureaucracy to eliminate human resources divisions and shift responsibility for personnel matters to a single office. Martinez had telegraphed the move for months because of a budget crisis that has prompted cuts across New Mexico government. Her order follows through on a recommendation floated many times during the last several decades as a means of streamlining state bureaucracy and cutting costs. But Martinez’s executive decision also puts the jobs of hundreds of government employees in peril at a time when New Mexico’s unemployment rate is among the nation’s highest. A spokesman for the State Personnel Office said it is still assessing how many employees will be affected but added that the move is expected to save millions of dollars each year.
As New Mexico Political Report mentioned earlier this week, we will be highlighting some coverage of old legislative sessions and how they compare to today’s. The obvious start of our look back at old legislative sessions were the two in 1979 and 1981. These were the two years that right-to-work legislation passed both the state House and state Senate. The legislation was vetoed by then-governor Bruce King, a Democrat who was a close ally of labor, both times. Neither chamber had the votes to override the veto.