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Unions Label NM Gov’s Right-to-Work Talk a 'Declaration of War'

First-term New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has announced a policy shift that unions are calling a “declaration of war.”  Speaking to a group of commercial real estate developers, Martinez said she wants to stop union dues from being automatically drawn from American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Communications Workers of America (CWA) employees’ checks. Combined, the two unions represent roughly 11,000 state employees. From the Albuquerque Journal:

"The state collects [dues] for the unions, and then we cut a check to the unions who then use that money against reform,” she said. “That was in the negotiated union contracts years ago [but] we’re at an impasse with the current [labor re-negotiations] because I don’t want to take the checks out of the payroll and do their job so they can attack us.”

Martinez is describing a de facto “Right-to-Work” situation where “fair share” dues are not deducted from the paychecks of state employees who benefit from collective bargaining but do not participate in the union. In New Mexico, the fair share payment is approximately $13 per paycheck.  

Nivia Thames, deputy director of the State Personnel Office, jumped on the anti-union bandwagon, explaining Martinez’s stance to the press:

“The state is opposed to this practice and has not included ‘fair share’ in its last, best offers to AFSCME and CWA,” Thames said in a statement. “We made this decision because of the unfair effect ‘fair share’ has on non-union employees (who) have complained that they do not want to pay money to the unions when they are not members and they are not receiving any benefit.”

AFSCME spokesman Miles Conway said that public employees will actively fight the policy shift in the arbitration process.  He suggests that Martinez’s rationale for the move — that these dues are being used to fund political attacks — is inherently false.  Fair share payments are used exclusively for operating expenses as he told the Albuquerque Journal:

“There’s no question she’s coming to cut the unions off at the knees, but we didn’t know she was going for the head,” he said.

Forcing public employees unions to independently collect all of their dues would undermine the unions’ efforts to fairly represent state workers, he said.

“To shut that off and say you now have to go out and knock on 11,000 doors every two weeks to collect dues, that would be a supreme departure from the norm,” Conway said.

For Martinez, the sudden and very public anti-union message is political theater aimed at appeasing her Republican base in an election year.  Her message is clear: make unions the boogeyman with right-wing scare tactics to garner support.  

New Mexico AFSCME President Stephanie Ly said the union-bashing is an attempt to blame public employees for the policy failures of Martinez’s first administration:

“She wants to attack the professionals who have been standing up for the students and for the employees and for the communities in New Mexico in saying we need to do something other than what this governor has pushed forward,” Ly said. “Attacking the payroll deduction rights has nothing to do with the real struggle at hand.”

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