Union representative criticizes 'right to work' laws at Farmington City Council meeting

Farmington City Council continues hearing about issue

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
  • The Farmington City Council will have a closed session to learn about legal ramifications that could result if it passes a right to work ordinance.
  • The city attorney said Farmington would likely be sued if it passed a right to work ordinance.
Brian Tremko, business representative for the Southwest Council of Carpenters, talks about how "right to work" measures can hurt unions Tuesday during a Farmington City Council meeting.

FARMINGTON — A representative of a carpenters union says "right to work" measures are a political move designed to weaken unions and, if the city of Farmington were to pass such an ordinance, it would make it harder for contractors to find skilled, trained carpenters here.

A right to work measure makes it illegal for employers to require union dues or fees from employees.

Brian Tremko, a representative of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters — which represents about 50,000 carpenters in six states, including New Mexico — addressed the Farmington City Council on Tuesday as the second part of the city’s educational seminars relating to right to work.

Carla Sonntag, the president of New Mexico Business Coalition, spoke to the council two weeks ago about how manufacturing companies prefer to locate in places that have right to work measures in place.

Tremko countered Sonntag’s statements that right to work measures increase economic growth.

MORE:What to know about San Juan County’s proposed right-to-work ordinance

“Many of the people who are affected by right to work have nothing to do with the economy,” Tremko said.

He used air traffic controllers and therapists as examples.

“They don’t develop the economy,” he said. “They don’t draw businesses in.”

He said right to work lowers wages, reduces health and retirement benefits, increases workplace accidents, and weakens unions. He described right to work laws as “divisive, dangerous and unnecessary.”

In addition, Tremko said there is no evidence that right to work increases employment. He also said right to work would impact training the unions can provide for employees. In the carpenter industry, the union will have trained carpenters ready for contractors when needed, Tremko said.

MORE:'Right to work' proponent addresses Farmington City Council

Farmington is researching right to work

City Councilor Sean Sharer brought up the idea of drafting a right to work ordinance in September following a decision by the San Juan County Commission to pass one in August.

Sean Sharer

San Juan County is the eighth New Mexico county to pass a right to work ordinance. The ordinance mirrors one passed in Sandoval County, which has been sued for its adoption of the ordinance. The plaintiffs, which include unions, claim only the state Legislature has the authority to pass such a measure. San Juan County has not been sued, but the outcome of the Sandoval County case will determine if the right to work ordinance remains law in San Juan County.

City attorney Jennifer Breakell said Farmington has been threatened with a lawsuit if it passes a right to work ordinance. She said the law is unclear about whether a city has the legal authority to pass a right to work measure. Because the law is unclear, Breakell said it is highly likely that the city will be sued if it passes such an ordinance.

There is not a city in New Mexico that has passed a right to work ordinance, but both Farmington and Ruidoso officials have discussed right to work.

MORE:Farmington researching authority to draft 'right to work' ordinance

No ordinance has been drafted by the city of Farmington. While Sharer initially asked Tuesday for the council’s consensus in drafting an ordinance, he changed his request following a short discussion. Instead of having an ordinance drafted, the City Council is asking for a closed session at a future meeting to discuss the legal ramifications the city could face if it passes a right to work ordinance. Breakell said the city can legally have a closed session because it has been threatened with litigation.

If the city does choose to draft an ordinance, it will have a public hearing during which community members will be allowed to offer input.

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