- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A New Mexico House committee Friday voted to approve a revamped right-to-work bill that tacks on an increase in the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8 an hour.

After some heated exchanges in a six-hour session, the House Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 along party lines to approve the Republican-sponsored revised bill that prohibits requiring workers to join a union or to pay dues as a condition of employment.

The revised bill now moves to a vote of the full House of Representatives.

Missouri lawmakers this week took a step toward joining 24 other states with right-to-work laws when its House voted to bar the collection of fees from workers who choose not to join a union. But the measure still faces an uphill climb to become law there.

Opponents of the New Mexico legislation, who have far outnumbered proponents at hearings, have said the bill hurts workers by lowering wages and allows big business to bully them.

Builders, business associations and chambers of commerce leaders have supported the measure saying it will increase employment. Labor and education union leaders and members have characterized the right-to-work legislation as misguided and misnamed.

More than two dozen people spoke against the bill Friday. One spoke in favor calling the wage increase “reasonable.”

A woman told the committee that combining the two items in one bill adds “insult to injury” and another speaker labeled it “despicable.” Yet another called the proposal an “insult to all New Mexico workers.”

Single mother Royeal Jones, a restaurant worker from Albuquerque, attended part of the meeting with her two children, ages 7 and 6.

She told lawmakers she was “deeply hurt” by the bill, whose minimum wage provision also calls for a training wage of $7.50 an hour for new employees for six months.

“What is to stop anybody from tossing us aside and hiring someone else” after that period, Jones said.

Two Democrat-sponsored minimum wage bills failed to get out of committee last month.

Some speakers said the revamped bill - with revisions offered by House Majority Leader Nate Gentry - posed a conundrum for the Democrats on the committee to be voting against any kind of minimum wage increase.

But Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan, said he would oppose the bill no matter what.

“If see a pile of dung and you put perfume on it, it is still a pile of dung,” Alcon said.

Gentry told lawmakers he had talked with Gov. Susana Martinez and received her commitment to sign the substitute bill, including the minimum wage increase to $8.

The floor debate took a snippy turn when House Minority Leader Brian Egolf said the bill was hardly a compromise, as Gentry repeatedly called it.

“I am not sure with whom the compromise is being struck,” said Egolf. “You feel like you got us in a gotcha moment, but that’s exactly what you should not be doing.”

Gentry said his inclusion of an increase in the minimum wage is not an acknowledgement that the current wage is low.

“There’s nothing mischievous here (or) sneaky,” said Gentry of his revisions to the bill sponsored by his Republican colleague Dennis Roch. “It is to give our lowest wage earners” a raise that would go into effect July 1.

Rep. W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, pointed out several sections in the bill that he believed would not pass constitutional muster.

About 43,000 workers in the state were members of unions in 2014, or about 5.7 percent of the total workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bill applies to both public and private sectors.

A 2012 review by the Congressional Research Service found that unionization rates are lower, job growth higher and wages lower in right-to-work states. But the review said it was impossible to determine if those outcomes were directly tied to right-to-work laws instead of other policies or preferences.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individuals can opt-out of membership dues but the union may still collect fees for services such as negotiating the contract covering members and non-members.

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