Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Roch 'right to work' bill passes out of committee


February 4, 2015

The New Mexican

A bill to end mandatory union membership as a condition of employment in the state, sponsored by state Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, received its first hearing Jan. 29 in the New Mexico Legislature.

Roch’s so-called “right-to-work” bill, which bans compulsory union dues, is one of the highest-profile issues of the 60-day session that convened last week. The bill, which is expected to pass in the Republican-dominated state House of Representatives, passed out of committee Thursday on an 8-5 vote.

One Democrat, Rep. Donna Irwin of Deming, joined the seven Republicans on the committee to vote for House Bill 75, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan. All other Democrats on the committee voted against it.

The hearing lasted nearly five hours, with dozens lining up to testify. Most members of the public present at the meeting opposed the bill, titled the "Employee Preference Act." It now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

The measure's supporters, most of whom were from the state's business community, said the bill would make New Mexico more competitive with other states in luring new businesses and bringing more jobs. "What we've been doing for past 50 years is not working," said Albuquerque businessman Sherman McCorkle.

Opponents, the vast majority of whom were members of labor unions, argued that the bill would result in lower wages and reduced benefits for workers.

This is the first serious effort to pass right-to-work legislation in decades. In past years, Democrats have had control of both the House and the Senate. But in November, Republicans won a majority in the House for the first time in more than 60 years.

At the outset of the meeting, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, speaking for Gov. Susana Martinez's administration, spoke in favor of the bill, claiming it would "strengthen unions by making them more accountable."

But in the Senate, controlled by Democrats, Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen has vowed to fight any such bill and has said the issue should not be discussed on the Senate floor.

Paul Gessing, director of the Rio Grande Foundation -- a "free market" think tank that long has pushed for such a law -- told the committee that right-to-work is "not an economic panacea. It's just starting point."

Gessing said one example of a large company that bases its location decisions on states' labor laws is Boeing, the giant aircraft maker, which built a facility in South Carolina a few years ago. He said eight of nine Airbus manufacturing plants in this country also are in right-to-work states.

Opponents repeatedly said Roch's bill would hurt workers. Several noted that most of the bill's supporters are heads of companies or business groups like the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry.

A sheet metal worker said if right-to-work really helped workers, there would be "a line around the building to support this bill."

One speaker noted that many of the states with the highest unemployment rates are right-to-work states. The most recent U.S. Labor Department statistics, published this week, show eight states with such laws -- Mississippi, Georgia, Nevada, Tennessee, South Carolina, Arizona, Michigan and Louisiana -- have higher unemployment rates than New Mexico. A total of 24 states have right-to-work.

Contact Steve Terrell at [email protected] Read his political blog at http://tinyurl.com/roundhouseroundup.


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