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          Front Page


Saturday, March 8, 2003

Unions Regain Right To Bargain

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson on Friday fulfilled a major campaign promise and a huge hope of government workers by signing legislation restoring collective bargaining rights to teachers and other public employees.
    "Today is a great victory for our public workers throughout New Mexico," Richardson said during a bill signing ceremony punctuated by applause and cheers from union employees.
    Between 8,000 and 11,000 state employees will be eligible to bargain collectively under the bill, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 18. AFSCME and other labor unions gave hefty financial contributions to Richardson during his successful 2002 campaign.
    Gerald McEntee, international president of AFSCME, said the new law will result in higher wages and better working conditions for public employees.
    "Starting today, you really do have a seat at the table," McEntee said. "The governor has made the table larger in New Mexico."
    The law, which will take effect on July 1, prohibits employee strikes and management lockouts. The measure will allow public employees to join labor unions in order to bargain collectively with employers over wages, hours and other working conditions.
    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 public employers have not been required to do so, as the law would now mandate.
    Richardson on Friday signed collective bargaining bills (HB 508 and committee substitute for SB 46) sponsored by House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, and Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque.