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House votes to ban local ‘right-to-work’ laws

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The state House late Friday approved a bill that would bar counties in New Mexico from enforcing local “right-to-work” ordinances.

The proposal, House Bill 85, now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Democratic Reps. Daymon Ely of Corrales and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe – who co-sponsored the legislation – said it would ensure the state had a uniform law on the issue, rather than different rules depending on the community.

The proposal would stipulate that only the state government could establish a law barring labor unions from collecting fees from nonunion members in unionized workplaces.

“It’s got to be a statewide policy one way or the other,” Ely said.

Approval of the legislation came after opponents of the measure rallied outside the Roundhouse earlier in the day, including the plaintiff in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case.

Mark Janus, the plaintiff in a landmark Supreme Court case, speaks to about 65 people taking part in a rally outside the Roundhouse on Friday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Mark Janus, who worked for Illinois state government for 11 years before leaving his job last year, said he traveled to New Mexico to support local efforts to pass laws barring labor unions from collecting fees from nonunion members.

He rose to prominence as the plaintiff in a lawsuit that prompted a June 2018 ruling from the Supreme Court. Under the ruling, states can no longer compel the payment of such fees by public sector workers, even if those workers benefit from union protections and contract negotiations.

“We’re not here to be anti-union, we’re not here to be anti-collective bargaining – we just want workers to have a choice,” Janus told the Journal.

The rally was sponsored by Americans For Prosperity-New Mexico, a nonprofit group linked to conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.

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.

In response, 10 counties – along with the village of Ruidoso – enacted local ordinances on the issue, despite a January 2018 opinion from Attorney General Hector Balderas that such ordinances would likely be struck down if challenged in court.

At least one of the ordinances, passed by Sandoval County, is already the subject of a lawsuit.

Supporters of House Bill 85 said the county-level ordinances should never have been enacted. They contend 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.

The bill passed 43-23 late Friday after about two hours of debate.

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