'Right to work' proponent addresses Farmington City Council

City exploring possibility of adopting ordinance

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Carla Sonntag, president and founder of the New Mexico Business Coalition, delivers a presentation on right to work Tuesday during a Farmington City Council meeting at City Hall.
  • New Mexico Business Coalition President Carla Sonntag addressed the Farmington City Council on Tuesday.
  • The city has asked right to work opponents to also give input.
  • Councilor Sean Sharer initially proposed that the city consider right to work.

FARMINGTON — The city of Farmington is soliciting input on the issue of adopting a “right to work”  ordinance — which, if implemented, would make it illegal for employers to require workers to pay union dues or fees.

While no ordinance has been drafted, the city asked Carla Sonntag, president of New Mexico Business Coalition, to present reasons why her organization believes a right to work measure would benefit Farmington.

Sonntag spoke at the Farmington City Council meeting Tuesday evening.

Officials of the New Mexico Business Coalition have been visiting counties and cities across New Mexico trying to get right to work measures passed. Eight counties, including San Juan County, have passed such ordinances. While no cities in the state have followed suit, Sonntag said representatives of the business coalition spoke to the city of Ruidoso Tuesday morning.

Right to work measures only impact the private sector. Public-sector employees, such as teachers, cannot be forced to pay union dues or fees because a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that forcing them to pay into a union violated their freedom of speech.

Mayor Nate Duckett said the city also has asked for representatives of the unions that are suing Sandoval County after it passed a right to work measure to come to Farmington and present their side. Duckett said the city had not heard back from the unions as of Tuesday evening.

Mayor Nate Duckett poses a question to Carla Sonntag Tuesday after her presentation on right to work to the Farmington 
City Council at City Hall.

The unions sued Sandoval County alleging that only the state Legislature has the authority to pass right to work measures.

Opponents who spoke at a San Juan County Commission meeting in August when a right to work measure was being considered argued that right to work weakens the ability of unions to collectively bargain for higher wages and safer working conditions.

More:Commissioners: 'Right to work' could help county attract jobs

Duckett started Tuesday's council meeting with a statement informing those in attendance that no public comments would be taken regarding the issue during the meeting.

Some of those who attended the meeting were wearing red shirts to show their support for right to work measures. Others wore pins that expressed opposition.

Duckett said the city will have a public hearing regarding right to work at a later date if it chooses to pursue such a measure, and people on both sides of the issue will be given a chance to speak then.

Community members listen during a Farmington City Council meeting Tuesday at City Hall.

Councilor Sean Sharer initially proposed that the city consider right to work because he had heard that manufacturing businesses prefer to locate in places that have such measures in place. Sharer said he would like to hear from both sides before a right to work ordinance goes before the council.

“We represent you,” Sharer said. “We don’t represent our own ideology.”

Some of the questions that the City Councilors had for Sonntag went unanswered Tuesday evening, including how many workers in Farmington would be impacted by a right to work ordinance.

Janis Jakino

Councilor Janis Jakino asked why New Mexico is not a right to work state. Sonntag said right to work legislation has been vetoed twice. It was vetoed by then-Gov. Bruce King in the 1980s and has not made it through the Legislature since then.

“Sometimes I think people fear change,” she said.

Sonntag claimed a right to work ordinance could spur economic growth in Farmington, which has been hit hard by the economic downturn of recent years.

"I believe it will open new doors," she said when asked by Councilor Linda Rodgers what the main benefit of such a measure would be.

Sonntag said Kentucky saw $9 billion of new corporate investment after it passed a right to work measure in January 2017.

Sonntag said companies such as Boeing will not even consider locating in New Mexico because it does not have right to work measures in place.

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