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No vote, but hundreds pack Roundhouse for hearing on right-to-work bills

Finding an empty seat for today’s Senate Public Affairs Committee hearing was no easy task.

That’s because hundreds of opponents of a proposed right-to-work bill packed the Roundhouse for the first Senate hearing on the controversial measure, with busloads of union members coming from Albuquerque and Las Cruces.

The huge turnout filled Capitol hallways and forced some people to have to listen in via a live audio feed in an overflow committee room.

The Senate Public Affairs Committee did not vote today on the right-to-work bill, but heard roughly three hours of testimony on the measure and other similar pieces of legislation. A vote is expected to happen Tuesday.

Business leaders and other supporters of enacting a right-to-work law focused on two primary points — the current requirement that some nonunion workers have to pay union fees or risk losing their jobs and the state of New Mexico’s economy.

“Whether we like it or not, we have to be able to sell our economy here in New Mexico,” said Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales.

But opponents described the proposal as outdated and ineffective.

“The real problem with the legislation …. is it is a bad business strategy,” said Alan Webber, a Santa Fe entrepreneur who sought the 2014 Democratic nomination for governor.

Luis Padilla, a Bernalillo County Fire Department employee, was one of dozens of union members who testified, saying, “Right to work means right to work for less.”

The proposed law would mean nonunion employees — in both the private and public sectors — would not have to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

It passed the House of Representatives via a 37-30 vote on Feb. 25 (for background on that vote, click here).

Check tomorrow’s Journal for a full story on today’s hearing.