Gov. Martinez revives right-to-work debate

Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is reviving the right-to-work debate in New Mexico, saying she'll include the issue on the agenda for the upcoming legislative session.

Gov. Susana Martinez participates on Nov. 18 in a panel discussion during the Republican Governors Association annual conference in Las Vegas.

She made the announcement Thursday during a panel discussion before a crowded room of business leaders, elected officials, higher education representatives and others who gathered for an Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

The governor called it a no-brainer, saying that adopting a right-to-work law would make the state more competitive when it comes to attracting businesses.

"That is what is going to make us competitive," she said. "When we recruit that is one of the first questions: What does your labor force look like and are you a right-to-work state?"

Business leaders at the luncheon argued many out-of-state companies don't even consider New Mexico as a possible place to do business because it lacks such a law.

Under the measure that failed to pass last year, nonunion employees — both in private and public sectors — would not have had to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

The proposal ignited partisan fights and resulted in hours of testimony during the 2015 session. It also spurred criticism from labor unions that argued the measure would lower wages in New Mexico.

The measure had passed the House, where Republicans took control after more than 60 years, but it was rejected in the Democrat-led Senate. Unions came out in force to show their opposition by busing members and other supporters to the State Capitol.

A similar showing is expected again this year, opponents said.

Joe Kabourek, executive director of the state Democratic Party, accused Martinez of political grandstanding by raising the issue again. He said she should instead focus on ethics reform to restore trust in government leaders.

"With New Mexico last in job creation and No. 1 in poverty, Gov. Martinez's focus on political posturing and right-to-work legislation shows that she's out of touch with working New Mexico families," he said.

If right-to-work legislation were to pass, New Mexico would join more than two dozen other states with such a law.

Martinez also outlined her budget proposals for the next session and talked about public safety matters that the Legislature should consider, including cracking down on child pornography and reforming the criminal justice system in the wake of a year of high-profile cases that included the shooting deaths of two police officers.

"With respect to public safety, it's been a very hard year," the governor said, referring to the slain officers, a separate case in which teens terrorized an Albuquerque neighbor and a rash of repeat drunken drivers. "... Communities are fed up."