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Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Bargaining Bill Goes to Gov.

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE Legislators on Tuesday sent Gov. Bill Richardson a bill he has promised to sign to restore collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees.
    The House passed the measure (committee substitute for SB 46) on a 40-24 vote. On a voice vote, the Senate later agreed to House changes to specify that supervisors may not join collective bargaining units.
    Between 8,000 and 11,000 state employees would be eligible to bargain collectively under the bill, according to Carter Bundy, political director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 18.
    The legislation prohibits employee strikes and management lockouts.
    A state law providing for collective bargaining for public employees expired in 1999 after then-Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed a bill to extend it.
    Several school districts and local governments, including Albuquerque Public Schools and the city of Albuquerque, continued collective bargaining with their employees after the law expired but have not been required to do so, as the bill would mandate.
    Richardson, who made collective bargaining a key plank of his successful 2002 campaign and who received hefty financial contributions from labor unions, said Tuesday he looked forward to signing the bill.
    "I am pleased that workers across New Mexico have regained the rights they were denied under the previous administration," Richardson said in a statement. "I have long believed that all workers have earned the right to negotiate."
    Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, said collective bargaining would result in increased wages for public employees, which in turn would result in higher costs for taxpayers.
    "You simply bargain against the taxpayers' pockets and against the taxpayers' wallet," Adair said.
    Labor and management representatives who negotiated what they both have described as a compromise bill applauded legislators for passing the measure.
    "This is a tremendous opportunity for state employees to have input," Bundy said.
    Paul Broome, a lobbyist who represented the city of Albuquerque and other management entities in negotiating the language of the collective bargaining bill, also spoke in favor of the measure.
    "Management feels as though the bill is a balanced bill," Broome said.
    The bill would allow public employees to join labor unions in order to bargain collectively with employers over wages, hours and other working conditions.
    Voter turnout would be required to be at least 40 percent in order to validate an employee election on unionization. Public employees would not be required to join unions under the measure.