State employees win union rights

ALBUQUERQUE – After 10 years of bitter struggle, New Mexico state employees finally won back their collective bargaining rights when Governor Bill Richardson signed into law these rights at a Round House Ceremony, March 7.

Present at the ceremony were not only prominent pro-labor legislative leaders, but also leaders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Teachers’ unions and the Communication Workers. Gerald McEntee, president of AFSCME, thanked Richardson for his support and willingness to have New Mexico labor represented at the Governor’s table. “This is a great day not only for New Mexico labor but for all the citizens of this state,” McEntee said.

Some of the major features of this bill are: binding arbitration; a no-strike clause; no sunset provisions, meaning the law stays in effect until it is legislatively repealed; a 40 percent collective bargaining election turnout threshold for unit elections; and an opportunity for all state employees to be organized into a union.

As a direct consequence of the passage of this law, Council 18, AFSCME, is engaging in a major organizing drive, hoping to sign up at least 51 percent of the state employees by mid -summer.

Parallel to the enactment of this collective bargaining law will be a major education reform package enactment that will provide a 6 percent raise in wages for all classroom teachers in the state and a 3 percent raise in wages for all educational support personnel.

In addition, the state legislature passed a public campaign financing law for candidates for the Public Regulatory Commission. It is also expected to pass and enact an extension of unemployment insurance, that will make it possible for persons who have part time jobs, or have to leave work due family circumstances, to collect insurance.

Despite attempts for the last 10 years, bills for New Mexico Universal Health Care have not passed. Sponsors of these measures hope that in the next legislative session, by a united effort of both labor and community forces, this measure will also be enacted.

The author can be reached at shawemil@msn.com