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County to consider right-to-work ordinance; Commissioners vote for hearings on issue and two other matters

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Chaves County Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr. has introduced a proposed right-to-work ordinance for county consideration. The matter is scheduled for a May 21 public hearing. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Chaves County elected officials meeting Thursday morning approved holding three public hearings in May, including one to consider a proposed right-to-work ordinance for private-sector employees in the county.

Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr., an oil and gas lawyer and a rancher, has introduced the proposal, which has received the approval of the Board of Commissioners’ Finance Committee.

“I want to thank Stan (Riggs, county manager) and my fellow commissioners for supporting my ordinance on right-to-work. It think it will make Chaves County an even better place,” said Ezzell following the unanimous vote of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners to hold a public hearing May 21 to consider the ordinance.

The proposed new county law, formally referred to as “Promotion of Economic Development and Commerce by Regulation of Certain Involuntary Payments Required of Employees in Chaves County,” seeks to codify that no employee in Chaves County covered by the National Labor Relations Act is required to pay union dues or fees or can be prohibited from joining or required to join a union as a condition of employment or work.

Government and public employees would not be affected by the ordinance, as they are not covered by the federal act.

According to language in the proposed rule, the ordinance is meant to provide broad job opportunities for county residents, to allow employees to take home as much of their pay as they desire and to encourage new businesses and growth of existing businesses. Violations of the policy could entail a $300 fine or detention in the county jail for up to 90 days or both.

Consideration of the ordinance follows the passage of a resolution in January by the City of Roswell expressing support of proposed right-to-work legislation before the New Mexico Legislature. That debate, which lasted more than an hour, included the assertions by one city councilor that right-to-work laws hamper employee protections and originate from segregationist attitudes. The bills introduced to the legislature during the 2018 session did not pass.

According to the National Conference of State Legislation, 28 states and Guam have enacted some form of right-to-work laws.

In New Mexico, Sandoval and Otero counties have passed such ordinances this year, according to Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation. Elected officials in Lincoln and McKinley counties are considering possible ordinances now.

Commissioners also voted for public hearings on two other matters to occur at the May 21 meeting, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

• Commissioners will hear discussions about allowing off-highway vehicles on county roads. The county ordinance under consideration is different from the one passed in January by the City of Roswell, although it was originally promoted by the same group of OHV enthusiasts led by Randy Robertson. The city ordinance only provides for the use of larger, golf-cart-style vehicles, not the straddle-type of all-terrain vehicles, on non-state roads within city limits. Robertson said that he was told that county officials adapted the proposed ordinance to permit ranchers and farmers to use ATVs for traveling among properties to check irrigation lines and similar work.

• A public hearing will occur regarding an ordinance that would authorize the county to act as the fiscal agent for a $200,000 Local Economic Development Act grant from the state to Leprino Foods Co. The grant will help pay for a $15 million refrigerated and freezer warehouse for the company’s cheese and dairy by-product manufacturing plant on Omaha Road. Leprino, the area’s largest private-sector employer, would add five new jobs and would retain at least 552 jobs as part of the agreement.

“We are more than happy to step up and do our part for that process,” said Chair Robert Corn, “bring more people in, put more people to work and expanding their footprint out there, which is always a good thing.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.