NM House passes right-to-work bill, 50 cent wage hike

Stock The ROUNDHOUSE - NM Legislature

SANTA FE (AP) – Following a debate that took combative turns, the Republican-controlled New Mexico House of Representatives has approved a right-to-work bill which also includes a 50-cent-per-hour minimum wage hike.

The legislation, which passed 37-30 Wednesday, prohibits requiring workers to join a union or to pay dues as a condition of employment. It would apply to both public and private sectors.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where the Democratic leadership in the majority has said it’s united in stopping right-to-work legislation.

Other states, too, are engaged in the right-to-work issue.

The Wisconsin Senate continued to debate its own bill late into the night Wednesday. The Missouri Senate is expected to consider legislation after a similar measure passed the House there earlier this month.

Like in previous committee hearings on the contentious bill, lawmakers from both parties clashed on the benefits of having New Mexico join 24 other states with right-to-work laws.

Republicans said the bill would bring more businesses to New Mexico. Democrats countered there were few examples of those clamoring to set up shop here if the law is implemented.

Builders, business associations and chambers of commerce leaders have supported the measure, saying it will bring much-needed jobs to the state. Labor and education union leaders and workers have characterized the legislation as misguided and misnamed, contending it will hurt workers by bringing down wages and undermining unions.

The bill is among the handful of hot-button issues that have quickly revealed partisan fissures in a newly constituted Legislature whose makeup hadn’t changed in decades until this session, when Republicans won a majority in the House.

“I really believe in this bill,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan. “It’s essentially about individual worker’s choice. … The worker should have the right to contribute if they so desire, but they ought to have the same right not to contribute if they so desire.”

Roch added that it’s disingenuous to suggest the bill weakens unions.

His legislation passed with an amendment that would repeal the minimum wage hike should the right-to-work portion of the bill be held unconstitutional or be invalidated by a court.

Roch said the amendment was simply to insure that “the deal that is struck is not dismantled by another branch of government.”

Still, Democrats pounced on the amendment, peppering Roch with questions and alternately calling it a “farce,” ”pointless” and “breathtaking.”

Rep. W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, who called the bill unconstitutional, implored Roch not to do an “on the fly floor amendment.”

The amendment is “a public admission of ‘holy cow, that this may be unconstitutional,'” and designed to assuage Republicans who cast votes in support of the bill that if right-to-work goes away, the minimum wage increase from $7.50 to $8 an hour goes away too, Martinez said.

About 43,000 workers in New Mexico were members of unions in 2014, or about 5.7 percent of the total workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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