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County commissioners vote to continue labor board

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Chaves County will keep its local labor relations board, commissioners decided after a brief public hearing Thursday about enacting an ordinance regarding that issue.

The county’s Labor Management Relations Board, formed in 2003, will continue to hear issues regarding unions, employee grievances and other personnel issues as a result of passing the ordinance, which had been prompted by a state law that took effect in July.

“What this basically does is allow us to maintain our local board. There are a few other things in here that follow the state law,” said County Manager Stanton Riggs, who explained that county management recommended its approval. “Once this is approved, we will get this to the state board, showing that we have decided to keep the local board.”

Although the public hearing was called to give county residents the opportunity to comment, no one spoke for or against the matter. The Chaves County Administrative Center remains closed to the public except by appointment due to COVID-related mandates and concerns, but the hearing was part of the regular monthly meeting of the commissioners and was livestreamed on social media, where comments and questions were allowed.

The ordinance also did not garner any discussion among the five commissioners, who voted unanimously to approve the measure.

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In the November meeting of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners where commissioners approved holding the hearing, Riggs said the ordinance had been drafted by a lawyer who represents county management in employee matters. He also said it had been approved by the state.

House Bill 364, which was approved by the New Mexico State Legislature in March, required local government entities to pass ordinances authorizing local boards by Dec. 31 or else the boards will cease to exist by Jan. 1. All union and labor matters arising from local government operations would then have to be heard by the state board, the New Mexico Public Employees Relations Board.

Riggs had said during the November meeting that it could take a long time for matters to be heard by the state group, which has more representation by labor advocates than the local board.

“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,” he said. “Obviously the state board is made up of primarily union, not management, members.”

The legislative analysis of the state bill that passed the Legislature indicated about 56 local boards existed in the state in March, many associated with school districts. The law is meant to ensure that the rules of the local boards conform with those of the state board and to ensure that local boards operate according to the same standards.

The new law also states that no new local boards could be formed after June 2020 and that any board authorized by ordinance this year will have to be reauthorized by their local elected officials in December 2021 and every odd year after that to continue. In addition, boards will dissolve if they have an unfilled vacancy for more than 60 days.

The Labor Management Relations Board for Chaves County has three appointed members, a labor representative, a management representative and a neutral member. The board last met in December 2017 to hear matters related to the formation of the county’s only union, a local chapter of the International Union of Police Associations, which represents some deputies and employees of the Sheriff’s Office.

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

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