The issue of finally converting New Mexico to a “right-to-work” state should not be posed as a Republican vs. Democrat, employer vs. union measure when the Legislature convenes in January. Because at its core it is much more important than the rhetoric in a political echo chamber.
It’s about not forcing thousands of the state’s workers to pay dues to a group they don’t want to join (just 6.2 percent of workers in New Mexico are union members). It’s about putting New Mexico on even footing with its neighbors as it competes for businesses and jobs. It’s about moving from a government-based economy to a private-sector one.
And it’s about putting together a package of reforms that builds on what the state has already done and takes it to a higher level of competitiveness for employers and employees.
According to 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of New Mexico’s estimated 751,000 total workers, 46,000 are union members – yet 55,000 pay for union representation, and to keep the union machine and its high-dollar political messages running, fueled by millions of dollars in compulsory dues. Right to work doesn’t threaten unions; it simply forces them to compete for members rather than have captive, dues-paying members delivered to them.
By comparison, 24 states, including New Mexico’s neighbors Arizona, Texas, Nevada and Oklahoma, are right-to-work states. Nevada just landed the Tesla Motors battery factory and its 6,000 jobs. Location likely played a big factor in that decision, but being the odd man out when it comes to a fundamental economic concept such as right to work certainly didn’t help New Mexico.
Neither does having an economy so heavily based on government jobs. Many of New Mexico’s union members are federal, state, county or city employees, and while their role in providing services is vital, it’s a one-legged stool that can’t support economic growth – despite its undue influence on the political system. New Mexico needs to diversity its economy:
1. If it wants to insulate itself from the effects of federal inaction/error. (Can you say sequestration? How about furlough?)
2. If it wants to establish a more vibrant jobs sector that employs New Mexicans and draws folks from other places interested in careers beyond the basic functions government provides.
A key to that diversification is being able to compete for employers and employees alike. And that should not be an R vs. D battle. Lawmakers should seriously consider right-to-work legislation as one piece of a broader economic reform package when they return to the Roundhouse next year.
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.