State, union approve new labor contract - Albuquerque Journal

State, union approve new labor contract

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – For the first time in more than a decade, New Mexico’s state government has entered into a new collective bargaining agreement with one of the two main labor unions that represent more than 8,700 rank-and-file state workers.

The new labor contract comes after negotiations between former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration and union representatives broke down, eventually prompting the issue to be put on hold until Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office in January 2019.

A previous collective bargaining agreement from 2009 had remained in place during that time due to an “evergreen” provision, but both union leaders and current state officials say there was an emphasis on getting a new contract in place.

“This trust rebuilding has been an ongoing priority for us,” State Personnel Director Ricky Serna said during a recent interview.

He also said the changes under the new contract will apply to all 17,000 or so classified state employees, regardless of whether they are dues-paying union members.

The changes in the new collective bargaining agreement between the Lujan Grisham administration and the local chapter of the Communications Workers of America include a more generous sick leave accrual policy, an extra personal day each year and more available bereavement leave time.

In addition, the new contract allows union members to request alternative work schedules, though such changes are contingent on a supervisor’s approval, said Sandy Martinez, the director of labor relations for the State Personnel Office.

In all, the labor contract lays out work schedules, benefits, paid holidays and more for classified state employees who fall under the collective bargaining agreement. Political appointees, who often earn more money, are not covered by the contract.

Dan Secrist, the president of the local CWA union, said negotiations on the master agreement – there are also separate agency provisions for each state department – were nearly completed in 2019 but then slowed after the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Mexico in March 2020.

He said additional bargaining conducted via zoom was more time-consuming, but the two sides ultimately reached an agreement that more than 90% of CWA members voted to ratify. The contract took effect July 29 and runs through 2024.

Secrist, who was part of the negotiating team, said union leaders still have concerns about state worker pay and staffing levels throughout state government, but described the new collective bargaining agreement as an improvement.

Pay adjustments for classified state workers are set by the Legislature as part of the annual budget.

“We’re pleased with the new contract,” Secrist told the Journal. “It’s not perfect, but it’s better.”

Currently, about 53% of New Mexico’s classified state government workforce is affiliated with either CWA or the state’s other primary labor union – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Separate negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME leaders are still ongoing, though Serna expressed optimism that a final agreement could be reached in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, one of the main sticking points during the Martinez administration’s tenure was whether rank-and-file state workers who are subject to the contract should have to pay “fair share” fees, which are a calculated percentage of union dues, even if they are not union members.

However, the contract no longer requires such payments from non-union members since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down such mandatory payments in public sector workplaces as a condition of employment.

Overall, New Mexico’s union membership level for 2020 was below the national average of 10.8% of all employees. A total of 7.1% of all workers statewide were union members while 8.6% of workers were represented by unions, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

New Mexico state law also bars public employee labor unions from going on strike under state law, which will not change under the new labor contract.

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