Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
A strong majority of New Mexico voters favor the underlying principle of right-to-work legislation being debated by lawmakers, according to a new Journal Poll.
Sixty percent of those surveyed said workers should not be required, as a condition of employment, to pay union dues or fees in organizations that have collective bargaining agreements with unions.
Twenty-six percent said dues or fees should be required under those circumstances, while 14 percent were undecided, didn’t know or wouldn’t say, according to the poll of 402 registered voters conducted Feb. 17-19.
Right-to-work legislation has emerged as one of the hotly debated issues in this year’s legislative session, sparked by a GOP majority in the House for the first time in 60 years and supported by Gov. Susana Martinez. The bill that has moved the farthest along during this session is HB75, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan. It is called the “Employee Preference Act.”
The poll, conducted by Research & Polling Inc., shows that the “vast majority” of Republicans – 74 percent – oppose mandatory union fees, along with a plurality of Democrats – 47 percent. Independents came in at 68 percent in opposition.
“Party affiliation is a major predictor,” said Research & Polling Inc. President Brian Sanderoff. “Republicans are much more supportive; however, even a plurality of Democrats feel that union fees or dues should not be required.”
Results also showed that support for the basic premise of right-to-work legislation increased along with the level of education. Seventy percent of those with a graduate degree or who had done graduate work opposed the mandatory fees.
The proposed change in New Mexico’s labor laws would mean nonunion employees – in both the private and public sectors – could not be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment over their objection. Such fees, under what is known as a union security agreement, can currently be mandated in workplaces covered by collective bargaining agreements if both employer and union agree to it.
Opponents say the measure would stifle worker pay and benefit levels, while backers contend it would make the state more attractive to businesses and give employees freedom of choice.
The bill cleared the House Business and Employment Committee on an 8-5 vote on Jan. 29, then was approved by the House Judiciary Committee 7-6 on Feb. 13.
It was scheduled to be voted on in the House last week but was delayed as some GOP lawmakers balked at a plan to tie a 50-cent-per-hour minimum wage increase to the proposal.
The proposal has drawn opposition from Democratic lawmakers and labor unions.
Right-to-work proposals have faltered in the Legislature in recent years, and approved legislation was vetoed in 1979 and 1981. But there has been a move to adopt them elsewhere, with Michigan and Indiana doing so in 2012. Twenty-four states now have right-to-work laws.
Based on the November general election results, New Mexico Republicans now hold a 37-33 majority in the House. However, Democrats still hold an advantage in the Senate, and top-ranking Democratic senators have voiced opposition to right-to-work legislation.
In New Mexico, there were about 43,000 union members in 2014, or about 5.7 percent of the state’s total workforce, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. That union membership rate was down from 2013 and below the national average of 11.1 percent.
The poll asked: “Do you think that workers should or should not be required to pay union dues or fees, as a condition of employment, in organizations that have collective bargaining agreements with unions?”
It was based on a scientific, statewide sample of 402 registered voters. Fifty-two percent of the calls were to cellphones. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.