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.
ByAndrew Oxford and Milan Simonich, Santa Fe New Mexican |
New Mexico is not what is known as a “right-to-work” state, and the Legislature drove home that point Sunday night. The Senate voted 23-19 to approve House Bill 85, which permits employers and labor organizations in New Mexico to enter into agreements requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment. Now the measure goes to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who’s well aware that 10 of the state’s 33 counties have adopted so-called right-to-work laws that say employees cannot be compelled to pay fees to a labor union that represents them on the job. The Senate struck back by approving the bill that strikes down these local measures. In some ways, the bill is as symbolic as the the city and county ordinances it seeks to void, merely reaffirming New Mexico’s labor laws.
Democrats are set to control an even larger majority of the state Legislature in addition to control of the governor’s office, so Republican-backed efforts are not likely to become law next year. But right-to-work legislation on the local level has not lost steam and at least one group is focusing on Spanish speakers in southern New Mexico. The Libre Initiative, a non-profit group that proclaims advocacy for the “U.S. Hispanic community” and “limited government, property rights, rule of law, sound money supply and free enterprise,” started running an ad Thursday on a Spanish-speaking radio station in Las Cruces. The ad asks listeners to call on Doña Ana County commissioners to pass a local right-to-work law. “Hola, soy Carlos con La Iniciativa LIBRE,” the ad begins.
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.
CARRIZOZO, N.M.—The home of Billy the Kid and Smokey Bear is now the third county in New Mexico to pass a right-to-work ordinance. All five Lincoln County Commissioners voted to pass the ordinance on Tuesday after less than an hour of public comment and no remarks from the commissioners themselves, except for the few words spoken during the vote. While the commissioners had little to say about right-to-work during the public meeting, the audience was peppered with political and elected officials. Lincoln County Clerk Rhonda Burrows, Carrizozo Municipal Schools Superintendent Ricky Espinoza, Ruidoso Village Councilor Joseph Eby, 2nd Congressional District candidate Gavin Clarkson and New Mexico state Rep. Greg Nibert supported the measure during the public comment period of the meeting. At the meeting, 12th District Attorney John Sugg also offered more than just his verbal support.
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.