March 7, 2003
Governor Signs Collective Bargaining Bill
By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
SANTA FE To the cheers of state workers and other public employees, Gov. Bill Richardson on Friday signed into a law a measure restoring their collective bargaining rights.
"Many of you were denied your rights under the previous administration, and that has ended," Richardson said at a ceremony in the Capitol rotunda.
Delivering on a campaign promise, the labor-backed Democratic governor signed a law that requires the state, cities, counties, and school boards to negotiate with unionized workers.
A previous law lapsed in 1999, and former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson had vetoed attempts to revive it.
Richardson was joined by national labor leaders, including Gerald McEntee, international president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
"Starting today, you really do have a seat at the table," McEntee told the crowd.
While some big employers, such as the city of Albuquerque, continued to negotiate contracts after the old law expired, many did not.
AFSCME estimates about 9,000 state workers who used to be covered by contracts no longer are.
"We've been struggling since to get raises, to get better benefits, to have a voice in our working conditions," said Ernie Padilla of Albuquerque, a state Highway and Transportation Department worker and volunteer organizer for AFSCME.
With the new law slated to take effect July 1, "I'm doing some recruiting. I'm talking to my co-workers," Padilla said in an interview.
McEntee said after the news conference that the union is prepared to do whatever it takes to organize public employees, a campaign he estimated could cost a couple of million dollars.
Unions will focus not just on state agencies, but on counties, cities and school districts that were never organized or where contracts expired and were not renewed.
Officials of the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the Communications Workers of America also spoke at the ceremony.
"We deserve to celebrate, because we've restored democracy in state workplaces," said Barbara Easterling, CWA's secretary-treasurer.