SANTA FE, N.M. — Forces on both sides of the right-to-work debate are girding for action at the Legislature, where bills seeking to make New Mexico the 25th state to pass the legislation have already been filed, but it’s not clear how much money might be brought into the debate.
“I think it’s going to be a real big fight. It’s the kind of issue that is important to a lot of people, both those pro and con,” said political analyst Brian Sanderoff of Research and Polling.
Sanderoff ventured that the biggest chunk of money to influence the issue was spent during the campaign season in an effort to get candidates elected who would either support or oppose right to work. He speculated that spending during the legislative session would likely be concentrated on mailings, fliers delivered to homes and radio ads in an attempt to target voters in districts where they believed they could sway legislators.
Republicans had a net gain of four seats in the state House of Representatives in the November election, giving the GOP a majority for the first time in 60 years. Democrats are still in the majority in the Senate.
The bills filed so far would prohibit private-sector businesses from requiring employees to pay union fees as a condition of employment. Another bill would prevent payroll deductions of union dues for public employees.
Supporters of right-to-work efforts, including Gov. Susana Martinez, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, Albuquerque Economic Development and the Association of Commerce and Industry say the legislation is an economic development tool that would make New Mexico competitive with neighboring right-to-work states like Texas, Arizona and Utah.
Union leaders Jon Hendry of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, and Carter Bundy of the AFSCME say passing right-to-work legislation would bring low-wage jobs. They say it’s a political argument and that supporters are trying to undermine the ability of unions to represent workers at all levels.
“This is about the survival of the Democratic Party as much as anything else,” Hendry told the Journal this week.
Unions have contributed heavily to Democratic campaigns and causes.
Hendry said the unions will mobilize their membership to lobby legislators against the bills. Though not specific about whether they would ask national leadership for financial help, Hendry said, “If I felt I needed money to go out and run some ads, I would make the call, send the email and do that.”
Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessingcq said his free-market think tank will be providing research and information to business leaders to make “an intellectual case” for right to work during the session.
Jobs for all New Mexicans, a recently formed group of New Mexico business representatives, will be actively lobbying for the bills.
“This is a grass-roots, New Mexican-led and funded effort,” said Drew Dolan, president of Titan Development and a Jobs for All board member.
He said the group is not soliciting money from groups outside New Mexico. “To my knowledge, none of the key supporters are from out of state,” Dolan said.
The group believes the bills will pass the Republican-led House so it will be sending out mailings to targeted Senate districts. Dolan said the group hadn’t decided whether they will run TV or radio ads but they have hired lobbyist Anthony (T.J.) Trujillo to work the issue in Santa Fe. Dolan declined to say how much the group planned to spend on its lobbying effort.
Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Terri Cole said she will be lobbying on behalf of her organization aided by chamber board members and volunteers.
“Right to work is on our lobbying agenda for the first time in years,” Cole said. “That’s because we think we have a shot to get it passed and sent to the governor.”
Eric Layer, spokesman for the Association of Commerce and Industry expects several hundred of its members to show up for business day at the Legislature on Feb. 3 where they will lobby for right to work, ACI’s top priority this year.
In the opposition camp, Charles Goodmacher of the National Education Association, a public school employees’ union with around 8,500 members in New Mexico, said the union will be encouraging members to talk to their own legislators about right to work.
“We have a pretty aggressive program,” Goodmacher said.
He said the union has received funding from its national organization for its overall lobbying efforts in the past and hopes to get some this year, though he didn’t say how much.
Goodmacher said 80 to 100 union members plan to lobby legislators on Jan. 28 and will hold rallies and a march on Feb. 16. He said he expects other major unions to participate.