By Milan Simonich
Two bills that New Mexico Republicans call their "right-to-work" package are probably dead after a Senate panel blocked them Tuesday night.
The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 5-3 to table both measures. All five Democrats on the panel opposed the bills, and the three Republicans supported them.
Each bill sought to outlaw compulsory fees if a worker chooses not to belong to a union. Some unions in New Mexico, as part of negotiated contracts, now charge what they call "fair share" fees because those who are not union members still get the raises and benefits that are negotiated for dues-paying members.
Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, and Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, brought the bills to prohibit the fees, saying they violate free choice and the fundamental right not to a associate with a union.
Roch also attached to his bill a second, unrelated proposal that would have raised the statewide minimum wage to $8, an increase of 50 cents.
His bill drew much of the Democrats' ire.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said House Republicans have inaccurately charged throughout the legislative session that Democrats are using Washington-style politics. Candelaria said Roch's bill containing a rider on the minimum wage exemplified the deceptive Washington politics that Republicans say they oppose.
Roch's bill, containing two vastly different laws under one heading, would be thrown out as unconstitutional even if it cleared the Legislature, Candelaria said.
"This issue is a cloud of political rhetoric searching for solid ground," he said.
Roch, in a prepared statement after his bill was defeated, called the Senate panel's vote "a sad day for New Mexico's workers."
"It's extremely disappointing that the Democrat-controlled Senate would choose obstruction over a common-sense compromise that would raise the minimum wage and give our workers the freedom to choose whether they financially contribute to a union," Roch said.
Sharer's bill does not call for an increase in the minimum wage, but it also proposed to ban "fair share" fees charged by some unions.
Republicans on the committee said they liked both bills because they might make New Mexico more attractive to businesses looking for plant sites.
"I want all of you to know that I think this is a step in the right direction," said Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo.
Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, countered that so-called right-to-work laws are bad for the economy, and especially for the middle class.
"Unions create higher wages," Stewart said. "Unions create better working conditions."
She also said that many workers in New Mexico, notably teachers, receive the raises and benefits negotiated by a union, even though they do not pay any dues or fees.
Stewart said these workers reap the benefits of the union's efforts and expenses without paying a penny. She said that private organizations, such as the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, charge membership fees, and they don't provide any services for free.
Republican Sen. Gay Kernan of Hobbs focused her argument for the bills on the possibility of an improved economy if the bills were approved. She asked Roch about Western states with "right-to-work" laws, and he said they had seen 12 percent growth while New Mexico recently had lost population.
Stewart offered statistics that contradicted Roch. She said wages are depressed in right-to-work states as unions are broken.
Because the bills did not advance from the Senate committee, they probably cannot be revived until next year. Senate Republicans already have tried but failed to move Roch's bill to the full 42-member Senate. That maneuver failed 25-17 on a straight, party-line vote.
(c)2015 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)