- Associated Press - Thursday, January 29, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A New Mexico House committee approved a right-to-work bill Thursday after a five-hour hearing that included appeals from about 60 speakers, the majority of them opponents.

The House Business and Employment Committee voted 8-5, largely along party lines with one Democrat joining seven Republicans, to move forward the contentious bill that prohibits requiring workers to join a union or to pay dues as a condition of employment.

“This was a good first hearing,” bill sponsor Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, said immediately after the vote. “But this is one step toward making New Mexico more business friendly, which has the effect of creating more jobs and getting New Mexicans back to work and ultimately protecting workers’ choices.”

The bill now moves to the House Judiciary Committee.

Opponents, who far outnumbered proponents at a packed hearing, told lawmakers the bill hurts workers by lowering wages and allows big business to bully them.

Builders, business associations and chambers of commerce leaders said they supported the measure because it will increase employment. Labor and education union leaders and members characterized the bill as misguided and misnamed.

Charles Goodmacher, National Education Association-New Mexico’s director of government relations, told the committee that no one is forced to join the union. “This bill is unnecessary,” he said. “We must represent employees who do not pay a dime in collective bargaining agreements.”

But proponents said passage of the bill would bring more jobs by attracting businesses to the state and keeping people from leaving to find work elsewhere.

Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, urged lawmakers to value the individual’s right to join or not. “Let’s put employees in the driver’s seat,” Cole said.

Carla Sonntag, president of the New Mexico Business Coalition, said 24 states have right-to-work laws and “we believe New Mexico needs to be the next.”

With a new Republican majority in the lower chamber in New Mexico for the first time in decades, pro and con forces have lined up for a robust debate.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has voiced support, saying in her State of the State address that workers should have the choice whether they want to join a union or contribute to one.

While the legislation stands a better chance of moving through that chamber, Democrats remain in control of the Senate and have vowed to block such measures.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez said Thursday he doesn’t believe the bill has much of a chance in the Senate. He again referred to the legislation as a “smoke screen.”

“It’s purely political and I don’t think that’s what we should be doing,” he said.

Union membership in the United States is down slightly, accounting for just over 11 percent of the workforce last year, the Labor Department reported last week, but that’s just a fractional drop from the year before.

One of the sharpest year-to-year drops in union membership came in Michigan: from 16.3 percent in 2013 to 14.5 percent in 2014. The decrease came in the first full year under the state’s right-to-work law.

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