Letter to the Editor: Why Right-To-Work Is Wrong For New Mexico

By Sen. WILLIAM “BILL” SOULES
D-37-Dona Ana

SANTA FE – When I ran for public office, I made a commitment to make decisions based on facts, accurate information, and data and not on emotions, word-spin, and marketing.

The so-called “right-to-work” bills moving through the New Mexico Legislature are perfect examples of laws where spin and marketing are used to obfuscate, obscure, and confuse people about the real effects and purposes of the legislation.

The very name, “right-to-work,” was carefully chosen to affect public opinion when, in fact, the legislation has nothing to do with the rights of workers and everything to do with limiting the ability of workers to bargain on an equal basis with employers. The first such bill heard during this legislative session, House Bill 75 (HB75), is titled, “The Employee Preference Act” and purports to protect workers from being required to join a union and to pay union dues. Federal law already provides those protections. Those who are sponsoring the bill claim to be protecting employees from a practice they already enjoy. This is nonsense!

The legislation would allow non-union employees to benefit from union representation without paying the costs of representation. During the first committee hearing, supporters of HB75 were all from the business community, not workers or labor. Something else must be going on. Why is management claiming to “protect” workers from something they are not asking for? Is the purpose of this legislation to undermine the financial foundation of the labor organizations? These are anti-labor and anti-union laws, plain and simple.

Let’s be clear. No labor union is allowed, by federal law, to compel any worker to join a union or pay union dues as a requirement for employment. Current law does allow the collection of only that part of a union’s costs directly associated with the costs of negotiation, bargaining, and representation that all employees benefit from when working in a job with collective bargaining.

It is clear that this anti-labor legislation is not about protecting workers, so it must be about the interests of the employer. The employers’ interests would be to keep wages low or to prevent the need to bargain equally and in good faith with workers. The “spin” is that keeping wages and benefits low will lead to higher wages and benefits. I cannot understand how this logic works. How will lower wages, not negotiated by collective bargaining, lead to higher wages, except for management? The arguments are a non-sequitur. In other states this type of legislation has resulted in an average decline in hourly wages of about 3 percent and a decrease in worker benefits.

The other idea that supporters of this legislation try to spin is that it will lead to higher employment. Oklahoma is the only state that has recently enacted this type of law and where there has been enough time to evaluate its effects. Researchers found that since the 2001 Oklahoma law was enacted the number of companies relocating to Oklahoma and the number of manufacturing jobs fell by a third. While proponents say that the lack of these laws are major factors in companies not moving to a particular state, not a single company has publicly stated that the laws were the reason they eliminated a state. There is also no evidence that enacting these anti-labor laws would lead to improved economic outcomes or improved employment. New Mexico should be trying to attract businesses that pay high wages, understand the benefits of working with employees instead of against them, and recognize that when we all do better, we all do better.

Who wins and who loses if this legislation is enacted? New Mexico already has low wages. We don’t need to depress workers further with legislation that weakens their ability to negotiate. Anti-labor and anti-union laws are wrong for New Mexico and won’t lead to prosperity. It is clear that the true intent, after wading through the deception, spinning, and rhetoric, is to undermine working people’s ability to have a say in their working conditions and compensation.

Contact your legislators and tell than that you want workers rights’ protected and that you will hold them accountable if they undermine those rights by enacting the mis-named “right-to-work” laws.

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