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Nearby counties to look at ‘right-to-work’ laws

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Burly Cain, statewide director of Americans for Prosperity of New Mexico, has said he considers his work to be about “protecting New Mexico workers.” He is shown at the May 21 meeting where the Chaves County Commissioners passed a “right-to-work” ordinance. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Two more nearby counties are discussing what proponents refer to as “right-to-work” laws.

At their meetings Tuesday, the board of commissioners for Eddy County and Roosevelt County will discuss what is formally called “An Ordinance Relating to the Promotion of Economic Development and Commerce by Regulation of Certain Involuntary Payments Required of Employees.”

That is the same wording used for the ordinance passed by Chaves County commissioners May 21

The statutes are being promulgated statewide by the Americans for Prosperity of New Mexico political group and the Rio Grande Foundation, a think tank.

So far, four counties in New Mexico have passed “right-to-work” ordinances — Chaves, Lincoln, Otero and Sandoval — as the two organizatons and other supporters look to work with individual city and county governments, given that state legislators frequently have voted down similar legislation.

The ordinances basically state that a private-sector employee within county jurisdiction cannot be required to join unions or pay dues or fees as a condition of their employment. Public sector employees are covered by separate state employment laws.

Eddy County Assistant Manager Kenney Rayroux said he was not involved in the matter but that the item is only up for discussion at this point.

“This is just a discussion on what the commissioners want to do,” he said, “whether they want to even consider it.”

The item was put on the agenda by County Manager Rick Rudometkin, who was said to be unavailable for comment.

Roosevelt County Commissioner Matthew Hunton of Portales has sponsored that county’s ordinance, with commissioners asked to decide Tuesday afternoon whether they want to vote on the matter at a future meeting. A call to Hunton Tuesday was not immediately returned.

In addition, commissioners in the northern county of San Juan have scheduled a vote on a right-to-work ordinance for July 24.

Supporters say that the ordinances will lead to greater economic development, new jobs and higher pay. They also say it will require unions to be more service-oriented if employees can choose for themselves whether to join or make payments.

The union leaders and other opponents who have spoken against right-to-work say that it infringes on employer-employee relations and can lead to less competitive wages and worse working conditions. They say mandatory fees make sense if employees are benefiting from union negotiations. They also say that “right-to-work” laws are not the main factors businesses consider when selecting sites because they are more concerned about workforce characteristics, crime rates, infrastructure and shovel-ready properties.

A legal opinion requested by a state legislator prior to the Sandoval County vote and issued in January by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas stated that the county’s proposed ordinance exceeded the authority of the county. After commissioners passed the ordinance, the county was sued by the New Mexico Federation of Labor, which has led to supporters creating legal defense funds and promising counties that the fund will help pay any fees incurred.

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