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Friday, February 7, 2003

Labor, Gov. Rally for Collective Bargaining

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson and organized labor on Thursday rallied behind efforts to restore collective-bargaining rights to state workers and other public employees.
    "Send me a collective-bargaining bill and I will sign it with pride," Richardson said at a rally outside the Capitol.
    The Democratic governor, who made restoration of public employee bargaining a key promise of his 2002 campaign, and had strong union backing, said collective-bargaining rights are essential to ensuring good wages and retirement benefits.
    "I want the workers and their unions inside the Governor's Office, at the table," Richardson said.
    Labor unions attending the rally included the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Communications Workers of America and the National Education Association.
    "We're talking about justice and fairness in the workplace," said Larry Scanlon, AFSCME's national political director.
    A state law allowing collective bargaining for public employees expired in 1999 under a sunset provision.
    Richardson said he hopes lawmakers approve a collective-bargaining bill quickly so that the measure doesn't become subject to negotiations during the closing days of the current legislative session, which ends on March 22.
    House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, and Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque, have sponsored similar bills to restore collective-bargaining rights to public employees.
    The House Government and Urban Affairs Committee on Thursday endorsed Lujan's bill (HB 508) on a 4-2 vote.
    The bill would allow public employees to join a labor union in order to bargain collectively with employers over wages, hours and other working conditions.
    The legislation would prohibit strikes and lockouts. It also would create a three-member Public Employee Labor Relations Board to enforce the measure.