Union Security Act: State, not local gov’ts, have authority
A state bill that could negate a Chaves County ordinance as well as similar local ordinances by requiring union participation by some employees passed the New Mexico House of Representatives Friday night, 43 to 23.
Now headed to the Senate, House Bill 85, the Union Security Act, has been criticized by state Republican leadership as an attack on the local governments that have passed what are called “right to work” ordinances that ban required union membership or dues payments for private-sector employees in their areas.
“These local leaders are accountable to their communities, and their decisions shouldn’t be overruled by distant special interests who put their needs first,” said Rep. Jim Townsend in a news release issued prior to the House vote.
A Republican from Artesia who represents District 54, Townsend is one of four sponsors of a bill that counters HB 85. The Employee Preference Act, or HB 378, is a so-called right-to-work bill that has not yet been considered by the House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
HB 85 supporters said the issue is about protecting workers’ wages and rights and upholding the federal National Labor Relations Law, which they said gives only the states and federal government the right to make decisions about unions and collective bargaining.
“This bill is not about whether right-to-work is good or bad,” said Rep. Andrea Romero (D-District 46), who co-sponsored HB 85 along with Rep. Daymon Ely, (D-District 23). “This just clarifies that the state has the final authority as to what its union security law is.”
However, both Romero and Ely acknowledged their support for unions, with Ely saying “right to work” is a good slogan but should be called “steal the deal” or “union busting.”
“It allows people to say, ‘You know, I like that deal that that union has gotten. I like those benefits. I like those protections that I get, but I don’t want to pay union dues,” Ely said on the House floor.
He added that right-to-work legislation could be like the government telling a phone company that it has to give its phones to customers for free and that customers only have to pay if they want to.
If passed by the Senate and signed into law by the governor, HB 85 could negate much of the efforts of New Mexico proponents of right-to-work laws.
For years, attempts to pass a state right-to-work law have been defeated, which caused a movement during the past couple of years to have right-to-work ordinances passed at the county and municipal level. Now 10 counties and the village of Ruidoso have passed such ordinances, which say that no private-sector employee can be required to join or pay dues to a union to be employed and, in some instances, would have criminal penalties and fines associated with required union participation.
Chaves County Board of Commissioners passed its right-to-work ordinance in May in front of a large crowd, most of whom strongly supported the commissioners’ actions. But there were some local and state union representatives in attendance who opposed the ordinance, saying that their lives had been bettered by the higher pay and better benefits that unions had negotiated on their behalf.
On the House floor, legislators debated whether federal law gives the right to decide about unions only to the state and not local governments.
Rep. Larry Scott (R-District 62), one of the sponsors of the right-to-work or Employee Preference Act, said that the law is not as settled or decided as HB 85 supporters represent about whether only states have authority over unions. He also talked about the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Janus vs. the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees, which ruled that government workers cannot be required to join unions because it violates their rights of free speech.
Ely countered that the Supreme Court decision has no bearing on HB 85, which he said covers private contracts only. He also said that legal precedences pertaining to New Mexico have for 60 years given authority regarding unions to states only. Ely also referred to a New Mexico Attorney General’s Office’s written opinion that concluded that Sandoval County, which passed a right-to-work ordinance, did not have authority in such matters.
Legislators also debated without any consensus about whether right-to-work bills promote economic development, as proponents say data indicate, or whether states with a high number of unions and union memberships have historically had higher gross revenues and wages.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at email@example.com.