New Mexico Strikes Down Local Right-to-Work Laws

Published June 3, 2019

A recently implemented New Mexico state law invalidates local right-to-work measures.

Several New Mexico counties had adopted ordinances to prevent employers from compelling their workers to pay dues to labor unions, and the state stepped in to stop them from doing so.

“The New Mexico Legislature passed H.B. 85 in an effort to stop local governments from enacting their own right-to-work laws,” said Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation. “Ten counties—nearly a third of New Mexico’s 33—had done so.”

A January 2018 legal opinion by state Attorney General Hector Balderas said a right-to-work ordinance in Sandoval County, the first place to enact such legislation, exceeded the county’s authority and created confusion for businesses.

The new state law, effective June 14, permits employers and labor unions in the state to enter into contracts requiring membership in a union as a condition of employment and asserts the state’s exclusive jurisdiction over the issue.

‘Selective Action’

Various jurisdictions in New Mexico have enacted a variety of policies governing relationships between employers and labor, Gessing says.

“The justification [for H.B. 85] was to avoid a ‘patchwork’ of local labor laws, but local governments have adopted their own minimum wage laws and Albuquerque voters narrowly defeated a mandatory sick-leave ordinance,” Gessing said.

During debate, senators opposed to the bill said the legislature was exhibiting bias in its concern about local labor policies, says Carla Sonntag, president of the New Mexico Business Coalition.

“We appreciate the points made by senators on H.B. 85’s flaws and the hypocrisy of the Senate to take selective action against county right-to-work laws when they did not take such action on other employment-related issues,” Sonntag said.

Unions Supported Bill

A 2015 effort to enact a statewide right-to-work law passed the Republican-controlled House but failed in the Senate. Today, both chambers have Democrat majorities favorable to organized labor, Gessing says.

“Ultimately, the Democrat-controlled legislature opposed right-to-work laws because they enjoy unions’ financial and political support,” Gessing said.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed H.B. 85 into law on March 27.

Potential Challenge

The New Mexico state law could face a court challenge, according to the New Mexico Political Report.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees that government workers cannot be forced to contribute to labor unions representing employees in collective bargaining. The decision does not apply to private-sector workers.

Currently, 27 states have right-to-work laws, and unions represent a declining portion of the workforce.

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 8 percent of New Mexico’s workforce belongs to unions—some whether they choose to or not,” Sonntag said.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.