Compulsory Union Dues? No Problem

There are worse things, in this age of credit-card penalties, cell phone ripoffs, etc.

For decades the New Mexico Legislature fought about two big labor issues: “Right to Work” legislation, prohibiting compulsory union dues, and public employees bargaining legislation, giving state workers the right to form unions.

No more. Under Gov. Bill Richardson, both issues have been decisively resolved in favor of organized labor. About 8,000 classified employees in 13 state agencies have begun paying compulsory dues under a contract signed by AFSCME and Richardson.

There is little doubt in Santa Fe that the remaining 14,000 classified state employees will be organized under similar contracts by next year. And you know? Nobody’s complaining.

This is interesting because “Right to Work” once was such a hot issue that a gubernatorial campaign centered on it. The late Joe Skeen campaigned against Bruce King on the issue, promising to sign the legislation if it was passed. Democrat King confided in his memoirs that his only way out was to propose that the issue be put to a vote of the people.

Almost equally volatile was public employee bargaining. Opponents for two decades prevailed by raising fears of government-crippling strikes. But in in 1991, two wonderful representatives of labor, the late Neal Gonzales and Mary Sue Gutierrez, capped their long careers as lobbyists when the Legislature passed the Public Employees Bargaining Act.

It was signed by again-Gov. King. It had a 10-year sunset provision, and when the law was renewed in 2001, then-Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed it. With Richardson as governor, it passed and became law again in 2003.

Which brings us to the present: a strong Public Employees Bargaining Act, a weak right-to-work constituency, and a governor who owes a lot to organized labor, particularly the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The labor agreement between AFSCME and the state, has an air-tight “Fair Share” section. It says that even if you aren’t a member of AFSCME you must pay your fair share of dues, as determined by the union under law. If you have completed the probationary employment period and don’t comply with Fair Share, you “shall be terminated,” to quote the unambiguous language of the contract.

First the union notifies you in writing that you have 15 working days to pay the full amount owed in arrears. If you don’t comply, the union notifies the State Personnel director to “commence the termination process.”

Sounds tough, and in the old days the anti-union legislators would have been screaming about individual dignity and freedom and so forth. But there’s hardly a peep so far about “Fair Share.” And why should there be? The employees are getting more back than they pay in dues.

Those old Right To Work arguments sound pretty hollow in these times of out-of-control involuntary extra fees, penalties and charges by phone companies, banks, credit card companies, and such, piled on without meaningful advance notice. Protest by not paying and your credit rating is at risk.