Issue raised by Councilor Sean Sharer

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FARMINGTON — The city of Farmington is researching whether it has the legal authority to consider a “right to work” ordinance that would make mandatory union membership or fees illegal within the city limits.

Currently, private-sector unions can charge fees to employees who choose not to be in the union. The right to work ordinance would make that illegal within city limits.

City attorney Jennifer Breakell told the council on Tuesday that she would prepare a legal memo on the issue. The City Council meeting can be viewed online at fmtn.org.

The decision to research right to work came after Councilor Sean Sharer suggested examining whether it is within a city’s legal authority to pass such an ordinance. He cited the San Juan County Commission’s recent 4-1 vote in favor of a right to work ordinance that would affect private businesses in unincorporated areas.

When reached by phone today, Sharer said it makes sense to have a basic set of rules for all of San Juan County, including incorporated and unincorporated areas.

San Juan County was the eighth county in the state to pass a right to work ordinance. The first county to pass the ordinance was Sandoval County. A lawsuit has been filed in the state Supreme Court arguing that only the state has the legal authority to pass right to work measures.

“This is by no means saying that we will pass it here, but I think we owe this to our constituents to look into,” Sharer said during the meeting.

Proponents of right to work measures say they can spur economic growth while opponents argue such ordinances weaken unions and lead to lower wages and less-safe working conditions.

Sharer's interest in a right to work measure for Farmington comes from an economic perspective. He said the city is in the process of trying to promote economic growth and diversification.

"I just want to make Farmington as appealing as we can to businesses that want to come here and create high-paying jobs," Sharer said.

County officials also highlighted economic development and diversification as the main reasons to pass a right to work ordinance.

“There’s no denying that right to work communities are more attractive to businesses, so that to me is a common-sense solution,” he said during the meeting. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I’m not married to this idea.”

Sharer said he does not view right to work measures as anti-union and said he hasn't seen evidence of it hurting unions. However, he said the city has already received emails opposing right to work.

He said if it is drafted, the ordinance would only apply to private industry, which means teachers, firefighters and police officers would not be impacted.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year made it illegal for public-sector labor unions to collect mandatory fees from workers who have chosen not to join the union.

While public employees have the choice of whether they want to belong to the union, Sharer said the Farmington firefighters love their union, and the Farmington Police Department recently unionized in a near-unanimous vote.

Farmington Police Department spokeswoman Georgette Allen said the department voted to unionize at the end of June. She said police officers are not required to join the union or pay dues.

During the meeting, City Manager Rob Mayes said the city is not drafting an ordinance, but it is looking into the legal issues surrounding right to work measures. He said if the legal department determines that the city has the authority to pass a right to work measure, a councilor could ask that an ordinance be drafted.

During the meeting, Sharer said the council can bring in experts to provide information for and against right to work if an ordinance is drafted.

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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