Halfway into this year's legislative session, it's clear that one of the big battles is over a "right-to-work" bill championed by House and Senate Republicans.
The bill is touted by supporters as freedom for workers to choose whether they want to join organized unions or not. But as the Albuquerque Journal's Thom Cole writes in a helpful primer on the issue, workers in New Mexico collective bargaining units are currently not forced to join unions but "can be required as a condition of employment to pay so-called agency fees to cover what a union determines is its cost of representing that employee."
Those fees are are typically referred to as "fair share" and do not go toward a union's political contributions.
But one thing Cole leaves out of his story is that not all New Mexico employees represented by collective bargaining units are required to pay fair share fees.
Local employees covered by the National Education Association who aren't union members, for example, don't pay fair share fees but still reap the benefits from the union's collective bargaining agreements.
NEA-New Mexico Government Relations Director Charles Goodmacher says almost no public schools employees, including those who work in Santa Fe, pay fair share.
"We provide representation to everyone in the bargaining unit," he says.
Right-to-work legislation would make fair share fees as a condition of employment illegal. Twenty-three states have passed right-to-work laws, most recently Michigan. Republicans in the Roundhouse have made the issue one of their top priorities, and have most recently tacked on a 50-cent increase to the statewide minimum wage to pressure Democrats into supporting the bill.
New Mexico isn't exactly a union state.
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5.7 percent of the state's workforce are dues-paying union members. Under 2 percent of the state's workforce are not union members but are covered by collective bargaining units.
A House floor debate anticipated for Wednesday did not take place, and the Santa Fe New Mexican reports this morning that senators don't expect it will get through the Democrat-dominated upper chamber even if it passes in the lower one.