SANTA FE – A bill that would bar New Mexico counties from enforcing local “right-to-work” ordinances cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday on a party-line vote.
The measure, House Bill 85, would stipulate that only the state could establish a law barring labor unions from collecting fees from non-union members in unionized workplaces.
“I am very optimistic that we are going to get this through the Legislature and to the governor’s desk,” Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in an interview after the House Labor, Veterans’ and Military Affairs Committee passed the proposal on a 6-3 vote.
Ely also said 10 counties – along with the village of Ruidoso – should never have enacted local ordinances on the issue, especially after Attorney General Hector Balderas issued a January 2018 opinion that such ordinances would likely be struck down if challenged.
McKinley County became the most recent county to pass such an ordinance when commissioners there approved it earlier this month. At least one of the ordinances, passed by Sandoval County, is already the subject of a pending lawsuit.
However, GOP lawmakers and some business leaders suggested the bill being debated at the Roundhouse would infringe on the ability of local governments to pass ordinances supported by their constituents.
“I’m asking you to respect their right to do that,” said Carla Sonntag, president of the New Mexico Business Coalition.
In addition, Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, questioned how the local right-to-work ordinances differ from minimum wage increases passed by Santa Fe and other cities.
In response, Ely said the difference is that the federal National Labor Relations Act only gives states the authority to enact laws dealing with agreements requiring workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment.
He was supported by more than two dozen labor union leaders and employees who called on lawmakers to support the measure.
Though union membership cannot be required under federal law, such fees could until recently be mandated under contracts in unionized workplaces.
A June 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down an Illinois law requiring nonunion workers to pay such “fair share” fees, but that ruling applied only to public sector unions. That means this year’s New Mexico bill would essentially apply only to private sector unions, Ely said.
In all, New Mexico had about 56,000 union members in 2018, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s about 6.8 percent of the state’s total workforce.
Meanwhile, repeated Republican-backed attempts to enact a statewide right-to-work law have stalled at the state Capitol in recent years, with Democrats and labor unions in staunch opposition.