Home News Local News Commissioners to consider ‘right-to-work’ ordinance

Commissioners to consider ‘right-to-work’ ordinance

“I think it will make Chaves County an even better place,” says Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr., left, about the proposed right-to-work ordinance he introduced. Commissioners Will Cavin and Robert Corn, the chair of the group, are seen with Ezzell during an April meeting. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The Chaves County Board of Commissioners has entered into the controversial world of right-to-work legislation, and a Monday hearing on a proposed resolution already has brought comments for and against the issue.

The proposed new county law, officially known as the “Promotion of Economic Development and Commerce by Regulation of Certain Involuntary Payments Required of Employees in Chaves County,” will be one of five public hearings at the Monday meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. in the Chaves County Administrative Center, 1 St. Mary’s Place.

““Right to Work’ is grossly-misnamed legislation that does nothing to guarantee any employee a right to work,” wrote Patrick Lopez in a May 18 letter to commissioners asking them to reject the proposed ordinance.

Lopez is president of local chapter 51 of the Utility Workers Union of America, which he described as representing about 200 City of Roswell workers who live in Chaves County.

On the other side of the issue are some local business leaders. A recent newsletter from the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. indicated that discussions have been held about the pending resolution. While the group itself did not state an opinion, it did indicate that passage could make businesses and organizations in the county more competitive in bidding processes.

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“One of the boxes we aren’t currently able to check on any request for proposals is New Mexico being a RTW state, which, in many cases, excludes us from further consideration,” the newsletter stated.

The proposed ordinance, introduced by Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr., a lawyer and a rancher, would make it illegal to require any private-sector employee in the county to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment. It also would prohibit people from being barred from or required to join a union to obtain or keep a job. Violations could be punishable by fines and detention in jail.

The ordinance would not apply to public sector or government employees, who are covered by different laws than employees of private companies.

Lopez contended in his letter that the ordinance is an “unfair and unnecessary intrusion” into a policy that is more appropriately the purview of the state legislature. The letter also summarized six points of opposition to the ordinance. These points included that passage could be costly, as Sandoval County is now engaged in litigation over the ordinance it passed recently; that the ordinance represents interference in negotiations between private employers and their workers; that federal law typically prohibits requiring union membership already; and that employees in states with right-to-work legislation earn 12 percent less than those working in states without such legislation.

The New Mexico Legislature considered a right-to-work bill this year, although it was defeated. But in January, as the bill was being considered, the Roswell City Council voted to support the legislation after a contentious hour-long debate. One city councilor charged that right-to-work legislation has its roots in segregationist attitudes and erodes employee protections. Another said the issue was racially divisive. Those who wanted the resolution as a sign of support for the proposed state law said a right-to-work provision is “vital” to economic development and business growth.

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, Otero and Lincoln counties have passed such ordinances. McKinley County officials considered a right-to-work ordinance at a May 1 hearing, but the motion to vote on it did not get a second.

Other public hearings due to be held during the Monday Chaves County Commissioners meeting concern two zoning matters, a decision about whether the county should act as the fiscal agent for a $200,000 state grant for the construction of a freezer warehouse by Leprino Foods Co., and consideration of a proposed ordinance to allow off-highway vehicles on county roads, similar to an ordinance passed by Roswell City Council in January.

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

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.