Federal law prohibits employers from forcing workers to join unions in order to get jobs.
But in New Mexico, unions can negotiate a fair share agreement. Workers who benefit from what a union has done–negotiated for better wages, for example–can then be required to pay some fees to the union, even if they aren’t dues-paying members.
That’s what would change under so-called right-to-work legislation making it’s way through the legislature this session.
Six percent of the state’s workers are union members and KUNM’s Elaine Baumgartel got some more details from Dennis Domrzalski. He’s the Associate Editor of ABQFreePress, a bi-weekly independent newspaper in Albuquerque.
Domrzalski: In many ways in New Mexico we already have right to work. And that is because any government entity, any company does not have to have a fair share agreement. Albuquerque Public Schools does not have a fair share agreement. The board has consistently said, ‘we don’t want that.’ So, teachers, about 7000 teachers in APS, about half of them, 49 percent are unionized. The rest of them are not part of the union and they do not have to pay fair share.
KUNM: So legislation that has been proposed would prohibit a fair share contract section?
KUNM: Some of the arguments for right-to-work legislation are that we need the jobs, the state needs the jobs. What did you find when you reached out to some of the consultants who work with the businesses who are looking for a place to set up shop? How important is a state’s right-to-work status in that decision-making process?
Domrzalski: It is important, mostly in the manufacturing sector. I chatted with 4 or 5 site selection consultants. All of them said that their manufacturing clients, that it is a big deal for perhaps 25 to 30 percent of the cases. Every one of them also told me that they advise their clients to not make that a pass fail criteria.
KUNM: Why not?
Domrzalski: Because generally what companies are looking for is the actual labor/management relations in a particular area and in a particular state. So, that may mean that even though a state might be heavily unionized that labor relations are good—you’re not having constant strikes, things like that. That’s the most important thing. So they urge them to consider it on a case-by-case basis.
KUNM: Union leaders in New Mexico have come out adamantly opposed to any kind of right-to-work legislation.
Domrzalski: They claim that by their presence they provide a floor, or they support the floor, of wages and benefits.
KUNM: Meaning what exactly?
Domrzalski: Meaning that if they weren’t there, we’d be crashing to the bottom faster than we already have. They’re there to say, ‘look, you have to pay us a decent wage and as a result of you paying us a decent wage, those in the private sector, for fear of losing their employees, will pay their employees more as well.’
Union membership in the United States has falled dramatically since the 1950s and 1960s when it was near 30 percent. Right now it’s 11.1 percent of all workers. And if you look at wages in the United States, particularly with de-industrialization, they have really plunged. So there is an argument that unions truly protect workers and help them out.