In a victory for two state public employee unions, the New Mexico Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the State Personnel Office violated a 2007 collective bargaining agreement involving thousands of state employees.
The court's order of affirmance, which stems from a lawsuit dating back four years, means the state could be on the hook to pay as much as $20 million to the approximately 20,000 state employees involved in the collective bargaining agreements.
It also remands the case back down to district court to settle the details of the back pay, reads that SPO in 2008 "breached the State's contractual obligations, and acted contrary to the legislative appropriation and to the [Collective Bargaining] Act."
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the American Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees and Communications Workers of America, argues that the state violated the pay increases that were bargained and agreed upon in their respective contracts.
In the original bargained contracts, the state and the unions agreed to sliding-scale pay increases over the next few years. But in the midst of a pay freeze ordered by former Gov. Bill Richardson while the state faced large budget deficits, SPO changed the pay increases to a flat 2.9 percent. In return, they provided the lowered pay increases to 10,000 extra nonunion state employees. In the past, SPO Director Gene Moser called the decision a "question of equity."
But the unions argued that SPO's decision violated the pay increases both parties agreed on earlier. The high court agrees.
"The State chose to provide increased wages to those employees not covered by contract who had no contractual rights at the expense of those state employees who had enforceable contractual rights," the order reads.
“The State Personnel Board took actions to allocate a portion of those appropriated funds to purposes other than fulfillment of the State’s contractual obligations. The effect of this action was to deprive those state employees covered by contract of sufficient funds to honor those contracts. Instead, the State chose to provide increased wages to those employees not covered by contract who had no contractual rights at the expense of those state employees who had enforceable contractual rights."
Read SFR's previous coverage here and the court's order and AFSCME's statement below: