Wallace Charley casts lone dissenting vote

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AZTEC — San Juan County became the eighth county in New Mexico to pass a "right to work" ordinance after a nearly four-hour debate tonight at the County Commission meeting.

The ordinance prevents employers from requiring workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of their employment.

Commissioner Wallace Charley cast the lone dissenting work after hearing from union members who feared it would weaken their union. The union members said fewer members would mean a reduced ability to bargain for better wages, training, benefits and workplace safety. The union workers described the ordinance as something designed to destroy unions.

The four commissioners who voted for the measure said it is needed because the county faces an uncertain future. They highlighted the potential closure of the San Juan Generating Station in 2022.

Commissioner John Beckstead said the ordinance was worth passing if there is any chance it could promote economic development. He said 600 union jobs will be lost in 2022 when the generating station and the mine that supplies it with coal close.

San Juan County joins Lea, Chaves, Eddy, Sandoval, Otero, Lincoln and Roosevelt counties in passing a right to work ordinance.

Commissioner Jim Crowley asked the union members who attended the meeting how many of them would voluntarily pay union dues if they were not required to do so. Following the show of hands, Commissioner Jack Fortner commented that every union member who had spoke during the meeting had said they would continue to pay dues even if they were not required to pay.

Four Corners Economic Development CEO Warren Unsicker said site selectors looking for places to locate businesses prefer areas with right to work laws. Commission Chairwoman Margaret McDaniel cited that as a reason for her vote. She said she had heard site selectors say they preferred right to work areas while she was serving as executive director of San Juan Economic Development eight years ago.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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