Right-to-work a question of economic development, fairness

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SANTA FE, N.M. ??? A New Mexico lawmaker wants the state to free itself from its dependency on federal dollars and oil and gas revenue and let the private sector grow the economy.

That???s why Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring two of five right-to-work bills filed by Republicans in the legislative session that ends March 21.

Rue???s SB92 would prohibit requiring private-sector employees under a union contract to pay union dues as a condition of employment. SB93 would end payroll deduction of union dues.

Right-to-work is an issue that breaks cleanly along party lines, with Democrats in both chambers of the Legislature standing with unions in opposition, and Republicans, including Gov. Susana Martinez, in support. All five right-to-work bills ??? HB75SB92SB93SB103 and SB183 ??? are sponsored by Republicans.

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, told in an emailed statement that right-to-work laws ???are packaged as a great economic tool by the Governor, but in reality these anti-worker measures are a smoke-screen for the failed economic policies of the past four years. Site location professionals say it is ???old thinking??? and not an important factor in business relocation decisions.???

Determining how much impact right-to-work laws have in the calculations of site selectors is complicated by the number of factors in consideration, as a recent Albuquerque Journal article points out.

The bipartisan legislative Jobs Council made several recommendations for improving ???limp state-level job growth relative to the nation and surrounding states,??? including $50 million for a closing fund to lure business to the state, $12 million for a job training incentive program and $3.5 million for Tourism Department marketing. But the council did not make any recommendation on right-to-work legislation.

???I listen to the economic development guys who are sitting across the table from these industry people discussing whether they???ll consider New Mexico and in what ways we???re at a disadvantage with other states,??? Rue said. ???They???ll look at the education system, the regulatory environment, the tax structure, and they???ll look at right to work. It???s on that list of things to check off. Sometimes we don???t stack up too well on those other things, but sometimes right-to-work is the straw that breaks the camel???s back.???

Economic Development Department Secretary Jon Barela agreed, telling, ???There is no doubt that there are a number of companies and site selectors that do not include New Mexico on their list for consideration because we are not a right-to-work state.???

???Beyond the economic development debate, the broader issue is whether employees should be forced to pay part of their hard-earned dollars to a union,??? Barela said.

State Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, also agreed.

???The true philosophy behind the legislation is about giving workers a choice. Letting workers choose whether they join a union and pay dues. There will be benefits in terms of economic development, but my primary is protecting workers??? rights,??? he said.

While Rue???s SB92 affects only private-sector unions, Roch???s HB75 applies to public-sector unions as well. Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, has filed SB183, identical to HB75, so the legislation can move through both chambers of the Legislature simultaneously.

Rue said he respects the freedom-based argument for right-to-work, but he wanted to concentrate on economic development goals.

???I don???t know that the Teslas of the world would care too much whether your public employees are unionized,??? he said, referring to the Tesla factory New Mexico lost last year to Nevada, a right-to-work state.

Public-sector union members, on the other hand, do care about encroachments on private-sector unions.

???Public and private sector unions are completely united,??? said Carter Bundy, political and legislative director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. ???This is bad for New Mexico workers and families. We???re all completely united in opposing all right-to-work legislation.???

recent Watchdog story explored the political connection between unions and right-to-work laws.

State House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said the term ???right-to-work??? itself is misleading.

???There is no question that it is against the law to force someone to join a union. Then the question becomes fair share versus freeloaders,??? Egolf said.

Under state law, no employee can be forced to join a labor union in order to work for an employer with a union-negotiated contract. In New Mexico and the other 25 states without right-to-work laws, employees covered by union contracts pay the share of union dues that covers the negotiation. In the 24 right-to-work states, non-union members pay no dues but work under the terms of the union-negotiated contract.

???It???s like telling a taxpayer, the portion of the fire department you pay is voluntary, but they???ll still come and put out the fires at your house,??? AFSCME NM Communications Director Miles Conway said. ???Eventually, with a lot of people not paying their fair share, there???s not going to be much money to put out fires. That is the exact metaphor we???re talking about with right-to-work.???

Sanchez called right-to-work laws ???mean-spirited??? because they lead to ???higher poverty levels, fewer people with health insurance through their employers, and even infant mortality and the likelihood of being killed on the job.???

These statistics can be found on the AFL-CIO New Mexico website, and are based largely on the Economic Policy Institute study of right-to-work in Michigan.

The other side of the statistical story is told by the National Right to Work Committeeand the Rio Grande Foundation.

RGF President Paul Gessing points out the household income figure cited by AFL-CIO using census data, more than $6,000 higher in non-right-to-work states, is misleading. A RGF policy paper demonstrates that when income is adjusted for cost of living, the purchasing power of median incomes is about $5,000 higher in right-to-work states.

As recently reported, statistics from moving van companies show more people are migrating into right-to-work states and out of states without RTW laws.

???Right to work is about worker freedom, the freedom of workers to join a private organization and pay dues to it or to choose not to,??? Gessing said. ???It just so happens that the right thing to do is also good for the economy.???