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Commissioners schedule hearing about local labor board


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The Chaves County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing next month to decide about keeping its Labor Management Relations Board.

Commissioners voted 5-0 Thursday to hold the hearing at 9 a.m., Dec. 17. It is scheduled to occur at the Chaves County Administrative Center.

The public hearing will consider whether the county should adopt an ordinance authorizing the continuation of its own board.

Originally formed in 2003, the local board considers matters related to employee rights and collective bargaining by union representatives and works to resolve any disputes between the county as the employer and its employees.

County Manager Stanton Riggs explained that the ordinance needs to be passed because of a new state law.

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House Bill 364, the Public Peace, Health, Safety and Welfare Act, was signed by the governor in March and took effect July 1.

Riggs said the bill took a lot of hits from the management of public entities, but nevertheless has made many changes regarding public employee bargaining rights.

“Unless we change and have permission to have our local board, our local board will go away,” Riggs said.

Among other provisions, the law requires local governments to pass an ordinance by Dec. 31 authorizing their local labor relations boards. If the ordinance is not passed and submitted to the state Public Employee Labor Relations Board by the end of the calendar year, the local boards will cease to exist on Jan. 1.

The law also requires public entities and any unions working with the local boards to elect to keep the board by December 2021, an election that will need to happen each odd-numbered year for the boards’ continuation. Local boards also are required to dissolve if they have a member vacancy for more than 60 days. In addition, no new boards were able to be formed after June 30.

Riggs said that an employee relations lawyer who usually represents county management has drafted the county ordinance that was approved by the state board in October.

“This is the model that they agreed to which will allow us to continue operating with our local board,” Riggs said. “There is only one state board in New Mexico, so if we ever had to go to the state board, there is no telling when, how long it would take the state board to even hear. Obviously the state board is made up of primarily union, not management, members. So we do believe it is important to do that.”

The local board last met in December 2017 to hear matters related to forming the county’s only union, a local chapter of the International Union of Police Associations, which represents sheriff’s deputies.

The board members at that time were Kelly Cassels, a local lawyer who was a neutral party; Dave Parsons, a retired business executive who represented management; and George Mata, a retired firefighter and union employee representing labor. The union was approved by the majority of eligible sheriff’s employees and certified by the board.

According to a legislative analysis of the bill as it was being considered by the Legislature, the changes were meant to bring the rules of the local boards into conformity with those of the state board and to ensure that local boards operate according to the same standards. The analysis said there are about 56 local boards in the state, many associated with school districts. It stated that some people have criticized local boards in the past for having volunteer members who did not act as required by state law.

Some state groups objected strongly to the provisions that will require unions to elect to keep local boards, saying that it will certainly mean that some boards will cease to exist. The groups that voiced their opposition to that requirement included the New Mexico Council of University Presidents, the New Mexico Municipal League, New Mexico Counties and Central New Mexico Community College.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.