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NM Senate to hear union participation bill

Supporters of the Chaves County “right-to-work” measure raise their hands during the May 21 meeting where commissioners voted for the ordinance. A Union Security Agreements bill to be considered by the New Mexico Senate would negate that ordinance and similar ones that have been passed by counties or municipalities. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Legislation would give state authority on union matters

A bill that would give the state alone authority when it comes to determining whether unions can require membership or dues from private-sector employees is expected to be considered on the floor of the New Mexico Senate soon after it passed another committee Friday night.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-4 to approve House Bill 85, the Union Security Agreements Act.

By giving the state the sole authority over union membership requirements, the bill would negate the ordinances enacted by the Village of Ruidoso and 10 counties, including Chaves County, that are known as “right-to-work” statutes.

Those statues prohibit unions from requiring private-sector employees to join or pay dues to the union to hold a job. Some of the ordinances also apply criminal and financial penalties for forced union participation.

Government and other public-sector employees are not affected by the proposed legislation because their union membership requirements are covered under federal law.

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The Judiciary Committee vote follows the 43-23 approval of the bill by the state House of Representatives on Feb. 22 and a 4-3 vote in favor of the bill by the Senate Public Affairs Committee on Feb. 28.

The bill “concludes as a matter of policy that this is not something we are going to be deciding on a … county-by-county or city-by-city basis,” said Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-District 31).

A member of the Judiciary Committee, Cervantes presented the bill on behalf of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Daymon Ely (D-District 23) and Rep. Andrea Romero (D-46).

“I would discourage debate about whether right-to-work is a good or a bad thing because that seems to be the way the discussion goes,” he said. “This is really a matter more of whether this is something we want to deal with at a statewide level or whether we want to deal with it in a piecemeal fashion.”

About 19 people attending the meeting, many members of unions, made brief statements in support of the bill. About eight people gave brief remarks in opposition.

The discussion that followed by committee members lasted about 40 minutes, with a good deal of the time spent debating proposed language changes that were either voted down or withdrawn.

Some senators noted that a genuine disagreement exists among lawmakers and politicians about whether counties and cities have the right to decide matters regarding unions or collective bargaining or whether the National Labor Relations Act gives that authority to states alone.

The other point that received extended debate is whether the bill was an attempt to interfere with the judicial process, given that a union has filed a lawsuit against Sandoval County following its enactment of a right-to-work ordinance.

“I feel like that, if the court rules that it is allowable, this is just an end-run trying to sit there and say, naw, it is not allowable, and I don’t think that is what any of us want to do,” said Sen. Ron Griggs. (R-District 34). “I believe that right now we do have an action pending in court that probably is going to address the issue of what was, not what is to be.”

In reply, Cervantes and an expert witness testifying in favor of the bill said that the pending legislation was not meant to interfere with the current court proceeding, but instead was introduced to address a “broader policy statewide” so that the state will not have a “checker-board” set of policies varying by county or city.

The bill has been opposed by several legislators representing Chaves County and nearby regions, including Rep. Greg Nibert (R-District 59), Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-District 58) and Rep. James Townsend (R-District 54). Ezzell and Townsend are two of the four sponsors of House Bill 378, the Employee Preference Act, which sought to create a statewide right-to-work law. That bill remains in committee.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.