The recent news that two right-to-work bills will soon hit the Roundhouse is just the latest event in the debate over unions and economic development in New Mexico. Here’s a look back at the evolution of the right-to-work story.
Sept. 16, 2011: In 2008, New Mexico’s economic picture ranked 27th among the states, according to a study by the American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2011, the state fell to 39th place, according to the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, free-market think tank. Jonathan Williams, a co-author of the council’s fourth edition of “Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitive Index” says New Mexico is at another disadvantage when it comes to its business climate because it is not a right-to-work state. In right-to-work states, workers in union shops are not required by law to join unions.
Oct. 5, 2012: As companies begin to announce expansion or relocation plans for the Albuquerque area, experts on corporate site selection say the state has some key assets it can continue to draw on — and a few challenges. “It’s been a steady march lately,” said Jon Barela, New Mexico Economic Development Department secretary. Site consultants said two factors count against New Mexico: it’s not a right-to-work state, and it has a relatively high corporate income tax rate. Dennis J. Donovan, a principal with the site selection consulting firm WDGC in New Jersey, says both are not huge roadblocks, however.
Dec. 2012: Michigan passes a right-to-work law; 67 percent of Albuquerque Business First readers say New Mexico should do the same. Worried about imminent sequestration cuts, Association of Commerce and Industry President and CEO Beverlee McClure says her organization will support right-to-work legislation.
Jan. 14, 2013: A survey by the New Mexico chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business finds that 78 percent of New Mexico small business owners believe the Legislature should pass a right-to-work law and that 73 percent believe an employer should have the right to review a job applicant’s credit report.
Feb. 11, 2013: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases statistics on Jan. 23 that show unions lost 400,000 members in America in 2012. In 2011, 11.8 percent of all workers were union. That dropped to 11.3 percent in 2012. In 2011, 37 percent of all government workers were union; in 2012, 35.9 percent. That’s far more than in private workplaces, with only 6.6 percent in a union in 2012, down from 6.9 percent in 2011, according to the data. On average, the BLS reports union members in 2012 earned a median weekly income of $943, which was $201 more than their non-union peers.
Sept. 5, 2013: At a real estate industry luncheon, 11 candidates for Albuquerque City Council take the stage to appeal for votes and talk a little bit about how to improve the city’s economy. Right-to-work is part of the discussion. District 9 incumbent Don Harris said a stifling regulatory environment is holding back growth, but that the single sales factor and other recent legislative actions will help. He said the state should look at passing a right-to-work law for New Mexico.
Jun. 17, 2013: A second federal appeals court rules that the National Labor Relations Board can’t force employers to put up posters informing their workers of their right to form a union.
Feb. 26, 2014: After weeks of speculation, Tesla confirms that New Mexico is a finalist for the Gigafactory, along with Texas, Arizona and Nevada.
Mar. 7, 2014: A bidding war for the Gigafactory ensues, and states begin comparing strengths and weaknesses. Right-to-work status becomes a factor among people speculating about what will influence the company’s decision. Texas, Nevada and Arizona are right-to-work states; New Mexico is not.
Apr. 15, 2014: New Mexico slipped to 37th place from 34th in 2013, according to the the annual Rich States, Poor States study by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which ranks states in 15 areas, including top personal income rate and the number of public employees. The state’s ranking was the lowest in the seven-state region. Utah had the top spot in the U.S., the study said. New Mexico scored well in the study in some areas and low in others. For instance, the state ranked first [the best possible score] in terms of inheritance taxes [none], and fifth in property tax burden. But the state drew a rank of 50 for not being a right-to-work state, was 49th in sales tax burden and 43rd for the number of public employees per 10,000 residents.
Apr. 17, 2014:“I look around at all of the other states around us and there is steady job growth. The one thing that keeps a lot of companies from coming to New Mexico is the right-to-work issue,” said Ron Burke, Director of the New Mexico Manufacturing Partnership, in an interview regarding why manufacturers think New Mexico has been losing manufacturing jobs.
May 2, 2014: John Boyd Jr., principal at the site selection firm the Boyd Company Inc., says New Mexico is a bit of a longshot to get the Gigafactory, largely for one reason — unlike the other possible locations, it’s not a right-to-work state. Boyd says New Mexico’s small native workforce is less of an issue. The state is also one in which Tesla faced legal troubles over its controversial direct sales model.
Aug. 20, 2014: In advance of the elections, local labor leaders say changing the state’s right-to-work policies would be a change for the worse. “This is such a nonissue for most companies,” said Carter Bundy, the political and legislative director for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. “Right-to-work is not what drives companies to places. It’s quality of life,” he said. “For companies that rely on cheap labor and bad safety standards, sure. For those companies, Texas is great. But those aren’t good jobs anyhow. People who get those jobs still end up on government assistance,” he added. “If you want a race to the bottom, where everyone gets minimum wage or just above it, that’s how you do it. Everywhere that has right to work sees lower incomes, lower education levels, lower healthcare levels. It’s a quick a path to the third world.”
Sept. 4, 2014: Tesla chooses Nevada for its Gigafactory. Albuquerque Economic Development director Gary Tonjes says right-to-work was likely a factor in the decision. “It would be hard to believe that it wasn’t part of their discussion. Based on our experience, and that industry, I would say that’s an issue that comes up,” he said.
Nov. 5, 2014: Republicans win control of the state House of Representatives. State Senator Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) says he sees a huge opportunity for several bills to pass that might not have even made it through committee in the past, including right-to-work. “It’s certainly going to be under consideration, that’s for sure. We’ve had the votes at times, but then the Governor vetoed it,” Ingle said. “The Senate will take a look at it, and there are the votes.”
Nov. 11, 2014: Jon Hendry, president of New Mexico Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, and the business agent for the film union IATSE Local 480 cautions that passing right-to-work legislation could jeopardize the state’s film industry, which is highly unionized. Without a union, directors and producers would not know if the crews they are hiring are up to the job, he said. “People come here for the high-end crew. If they’re not getting a high-end crew, they’ll go somewhere else. We use it as a marketing tool,” Hendry added. “Why would you want to dilute that?”
Nov. 17, 2014: Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry said turning New Mexico into a right-to-work state could have as much impact as almost any project, he announced during his State of the City speech. “We’d love to see [legislators] address right-to-work in New Mexico. That’s key,” he said. “We sit down fairly regularly with companies and they say, ‘We can’t come to New Mexico without a right-to-work status.'”
Dec. 24, 2014: Sen. Michael Sanchez, a Democrat from Belen and the Senate floor leader who has the power to call — or not call — legislation to a vote on the floor, tells Business First he’s not interested in hearing right-to-work legislation during the 2015 legislative session. “I don’t believe right-to-work is anything for our state,” Sanchez said. “Those are philosophical beliefs of both Democrat and Republican parties we tend to disagree about.”
Dec. 29, 2014: Sen. Sander Rue (R-Rio Rancho) announces that he’ll introduce two right-to-work bills in what is expected to be one of the most contentious issues in the 2015 legislative session, which begins on Jan. 20. Many expect right-to-work to pass the House, and Rue thinks that if the bills aren’t killed in committees, they could pass the Senate, too. The Governor, he said, has indicated she would sign such a provision.
Dec. 30, 2014:“I believe [right-to-work] is old thinking, and it becomes a factor only because someone is not well informed,” site selector Don Schjeldahl of The Don Schjeldahl Group of North Carolina said in an interview. “In the old days, leading up to the mid-1980s, right-to-work was on most checklists of states to include and those to eliminate. Since 1984, right-to-work has steadily become less and less important as a location factor for most companies to the point now that it hasn’t come up on my projects in probably 10 years.”
By: Tina Orem (Albuquerque Business First)
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