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State stops deducting ‘fair share’ fees from nonunion workers’ paychecks

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s state government has halted payroll deductions from more than 1,800 nonunion workers and told union members how they can go about severing their union ties, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month struck down a decades-old practice of “fair share” fees.

In a memo sent earlier this month, State Personnel Director Justin Najaka told employees the agency would immediately cease deducting such fees from the biweekly paychecks of nonunion workers.

The fees had previously gone to public sector labor unions in work sites covered by collective bargaining agreements.

The July 6 memo to state employees also contained information about how New Mexico public sector union members can go about leaving their union.

“Union members wishing to end payroll deductions must follow the proscribed procedure to leave their union before the State Personnel Office may cease deducting from paychecks,” Najaka wrote in the memo.

Carter Bundy, the political and legislative director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which has about 10,000 members in New Mexico, said Tuesday the memo is the latest jab at labor unions.

“The Martinez administration has been openly hostile to unions from her first day in office, so it doesn’t surprise us,” Bundy told the Journal.

In addition, while acknowledging AFSCME stands to take a financial hit due to the loss of fee payments, Bundy said that so far the union has actually seen more state workers become members than drop out since last month’s Supreme Court decision.

Though union membership cannot be required under federal law, union fees – up until the Supreme Court’s decision – could be required as a condition of employment in unionized workplaces. The court ruled that government workers who choose not to join unions cannot be required to finance union activity.

The amount of such fees varied by employee but ranged from $11.02 to $17.55 per paycheck for nonunion members represented by AFSCME, according to the State Personnel Office.

Nonunion members represented by a different union, the Communications Workers of America Local 7076, had a slightly higher average of $19.62 in fees deducted per paycheck.

Though the fees flowed to unions, they were barred for using the money directly for political purposes.

Between the two unions, there are 1,816 state workers who had been paying the fees but are no longer having them deducted from their paychecks, a State Personnel Office spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Overall, New Mexico had roughly 63,000 workers – or 8.3 percent of the state’s workforce – that were represented by labor unions as of 2017, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of that number, about 52,000 – or 6.7 percent of the workforce – were dues-paying union members.

Those figures include employees in both the private and public sectors. Slightly more than half of the state’s union members belong to public sector unions, according to AFSCME.

Meanwhile, union leaders and backers have argued all workers in unionized workplaces should be charged the fair-share fees because unions are contractually required to defend and negotiate wages for all employees.

But critics have long described the fees as unconstitutional. Martinez, the state’s two-term Republican governor, in 2015 urged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the mandatory fees, saying the “right not to be compelled to exercise speech that a person opposes is a fundamental freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

Over the past seven years, New Mexico labor unions – including teachers unions – have filed lawsuits against the Martinez administration, on subjects ranging from the state’s teacher evaluation system to having state workers’ salaries posted on a publicly available database.

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