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‘Right-to-work’ legislation targets mandatory union fees

A Republican state senator from Albuquerque has introduced “right-to-work” legislation that would prohibit private-sector employees from being required to join a union or pay union fees as a condition of employment.

The proposal, which was widely expected after Republicans won control of the state House earlier this year, is intended to make New Mexico more appealing to companies considering relocating their business to the state, said the sponsor, Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque.

“When you talk to the folks who go out and try to pitch New Mexico to out-of-state companies, they come back and tell us there are several obstacles to getting those folks to operate here,” Rue said. “… When they come back and tell us that we don’t stay in the hunt for these out-of-state businesses to come to New Mexico in a large part because of our (lack of) right-to-work laws, then we need to do something to change it.”

New Mexico currently allows unions to require all employees covered by a contract to either be members – whether they want to or not – or pay union fees.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said this month that he would oppose right-to-work legislation in New Mexico, saying the policy has not yielded the promised economic gains in states that have implemented right-to-work laws. Sanchez did not return calls for comment Monday.

Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said Democrats would oppose Rue’s bill. He cited data compiled by the liberal nonprofit Economic Policy Institute in 2012 that showed right-to-work states on average at higher unemployment rates, lower median wages and fewer benefits for workers.

“This is not an economic detriment, as evidenced by the numbers,” Padilla said of current New Mexico law that allows employers and unions to agree to mandate union participation.

However, right-to-work supporters such as the conservative nonprofit Rio Grande Foundation in New Mexico cite data showing right-to-work states average faster job growth, higher per capita income and faster population growth.

Excluding Colorado, all of New Mexico’s neighboring states have enacted right-to-work laws.

Rue’s proposal

The proposal would not apply to public employees unions such as local branches of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers.

A small percentage of New Mexico’s workforce is affiliated with private-sector unions that would be affected by the law, but Rue said his proposal is focused on the message to employers considering relocating to the state.

Rue said that although he objects to the New Mexico public employees unions’ practice of requiring nonmembers to pay the unions “fair share” fees to cover contract negotiation expenses, he opted to exclude the public sector unions to focus on the economic-development potential.

“This isn’t about going after the unions for me,” he said.

Rue said he had not discussed the proposal with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who has voiced support for such legislation.

Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said the governor “supports allowing workers to decide for themselves whether to join a union or financially contribute to one, and does not believe anyone should be forced to join a union or contribute to one as a condition of employment.”

Payroll deductions

While Rue’s proposed right-to-work bill doesn’t affect public sector unions, those unions are the target of a second legislative proposal that would end the state’s practice of deducting public union dues or fees from state employees’ paychecks on behalf of the union.

The change would force the public employees unions to collect their own dues and fees directly from state workers.

“There might be a lot of folks that are having this money taken out of their checks and they’re really frustrated about it, but they have no choice,” Rue said. “For the state to be a party to that sort of thing and to provide that service to the unions is absolutely wrong.”

Other states such as Wisconsin that have prohibited union fee withdrawal from state paychecks have seen union membership and voluntary dues payments decline.

Martinez earlier this year said she supported efforts to end the state’s practice of withdrawing union fees from state workers.

Rue also said he believes the practice of withdrawing fees and paying them to public employees unions violates a clause of the state constitution that prohibits government from donating to private interests, in this case the service of collecting dues.

Padilla, the Senate Democratic whip, said he is against the proposal.

Carter Bundy, political director for the New Mexico branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said payroll deductions are common in both the public and private sector.

He said the change is politically motivated to limit public employees’ unions in the state.

“I think he (Rue) knows darn well, and the administration knows, that this is a political attack that has nothing to do with the law or helping the economy,” Bundy said.