Editorial: Governor should not grab starring role - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Governor should not grab starring role

Lights! Camera! Action! was the traditional cue to members of a film crew at the beginning of a “take.”

But it didn’t take a film set or production crew for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to cast herself as a major player in a real-life screenplay as contract talks faltered last week between the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

The 60,000-plus union members were prepared to begin a nationwide strike Monday — a move that would have affected thousands of New Mexicans who work in and with the movie and television industry. Fortunately, a strike was averted Saturday night when the two sides reached a deal hours before a midnight deadline.

Liz Pecos, president of one of three IATSE locals in New Mexico, said a strike would have impacted seven of the nine active productions in the state and effectively halted “production in the majority of shows shooting in New Mexico, further impacting thousands of other motion picture and television workers in the state.”

The economic fallout would have gone beyond those directly employed — to caterers and other businesses that provide support services.

Matthew Loeb, international president of IATSE, said the union was bargaining on such core issues as rest and meal breaks, and a “living wage” for those on the bottom end of the wage scale, and that the union was prepared to strike after an overwhelming vote both here and nationally in support of a walkout.

Fair enough. That’s absolutely their right.

And elected officials, recognizing the economic pain a strike can mean for both companies and workers, historically have used the bully pulpit to jawbone the two private parties to come to an acceptable resolution. On occasion, there has been an offer to bring in a mediator.

Lujan Grisham didn’t do that. Instead, she weighed in on the side of the unions with some pretty strong rhetoric. “I stand with workers who seek dignity and safety in their workplaces, and the assurance of a living wage. … I extend my support to the members of IATSE 480 in their negotiation with the industry.”

Hold up a minute. Isn’t this an “industry” that, with the governor’s strong support, has collected hundreds of millions of dollars in N.M. taxpayer-funded state film tax credits that subsidize their direct spending on New Mexico goods and services by as much as 35%? Isn’t this an industry that state leaders, particularly Democrats, have wooed to New Mexico with these incredibly generous incentives because they are environmentally “clean” and provide “good-paying” jobs for New Mexicans? Weren’t the Netflix and NBC Universal expansions here heralded by the governor and others?

But, now, it would seem from the governor’s rhetoric that some of these jobs that New Mexico taxpayers are subsidizing lack “dignity and safety” in their workplaces. That these jobs don’t pay a “living wage.”

She went on to say she hoped for a productive dialogue with a swift and satisfying resolution.

That one line of dialogue was perfectly appropriate. But when she also said New Mexico is a “pro union state” that stands with workers seeking to improve their conditions, it sent a pretty clear message, not just about this dispute, but also in general to companies the state might hope to attract: If they end in labor disputes, it won’t just be the union on the other side of the bargaining table, but a governor willing to use her position to take them publicly to task — at least by implication.

Collective bargaining is a give-and-take affair between employers and employees. Other than encouraging compromise and resolution, the governor and other top elected officials have no business writing themselves into the script.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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