After only three months in office, Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signed a bill ratcheting back worker freedom and local control in New Mexico.
In March, the state legislature voted against worker freedom by explicitly prohibiting local “right-to-work” ordinances that had been adopted by almost a third of the state’s counties. These ordinances meant unions could not get a worker fired for not paying them.
Most of New Mexico’s neighbors – including Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma and Texas – have had statewide right-to-work laws on the books for years and have experienced far faster economic and population growth than New Mexico.
With no likelihood of state legislative action to pass a statewide “right-to-work” law, 10 of New Mexico’s 33 counties (including six of the top 10 in population) voted from late 2017 to early 2019 to adopt ordinances that prohibited unions from getting a worker fired for not paying them.
Gov. Lujan Grisham, who replaced Republican Susana Martinez, signed House Bill 85 at the end of March, which preempted those local ordinances. Having received overwhelming union support during her campaign for the Governors’ Office, it is no surprise that the governor and legislative Democrats passed a ban on local “right-to-work” laws. It was, however, clearly based on politics and not consistent governing.
Simply put, the zeal with which the governor and Legislature killed local control of worker freedom is noticeably absent on other issues.
The mantra that labor laws should be made at the state level was repeated by unions and their allies in testimony on this “anti-right-to-work” legislation as it moved its way through the committee process. But the reality is that the Legislature regularly refuses to preempt other job-killing local laws and ordinances. For instance, local minimum wage bills have a disastrous effect on job prospects for low-skilled workers, but the Legislature just sits back and watches as they are enacted.
In late 2017, Albuquerque voters narrowly turned down a local ballot initiative that would have required businesses – no matter their size and including nonprofits – to offer paid sick leave to employees. The proposed ordinance would have been among the most aggressive in the entire nation.
Did politicians, who on one hand preach the need for statewide labor laws, say a word about these “local usurpations” of power rightly held by the Legislature? Of course they didn’t. If anything, they cheered them on or were even involved in the campaigns.
The back-and-forth in New Mexico over whether labor policy should be made at the state or local level brings up questions relevant to politicians in almost any state. The U.S. Constitution certainly empowers the states to decide whether to keep power in the state capital or disperse it to counties, cities and other local governments.
New Mexico has the worst of both worlds: a politically motivated hodgepodge of policies based purely on political considerations with no bright lines to guide policymakers. Instead, we get local governments pushing the envelope on policies like minimum wage and sick leave mandates.
Workers across New Mexico deserve worker freedom and the ability to get work experience. But the state Legislature is determined to stand in the way. Lawmakers are preempting counties from giving private employees the freedom to choose whether they will pay a union, while at the same time refusing to enact statewide laws to protect jobs.
In short, the Legislature has its priorities backward.