Commentary: Right-to-Work comes to New Mexico

Matt Patterson and Brent W. Yessin, Esq.
Special to the Farmington Daily Times
Guest Editorial

Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, government workers can keep more of their paycheck if they choose. But if you work for a private employer, you may not be so lucky. 

The Court found in its 5-4 decision in the Janus v AFSCME case that forcing government workers to pay the union violates their First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly.

The question now is: Why shouldn’t workers in the private sector enjoy those same protections? In 28 Right-to-Work states, they do, and that now includes many New Mexico communities.

Already four New Mexico counties have passed “Right-to-Work” (RTW) ordinances this year, allowing workers to choose whether or not to support a labor organization. Another dozen cities and counties are lining up to do the same.

Most union bosses oppose RTW, but some far-sighted union leaders see the benefit of choice for workers and unions alike. 

John Coskey, for example, spent 17 years as a senior official at the largest Teamster local in RTW Florida.   He didn’t fret about his inability to force members to pay; he just negotiated good deals and delivered for his members. 

As Coskey put it to officials in Sandoval County recently: 

“Almost everyone paid because I worked hard for them and they knew it. We were a stronger union because of it. Right-to-Work is better for members. THEY get to choose: Are we delivering, or not?!”

Gary Casteel, now a top official at the United Autoworkers union (UAW) agrees. He was in charge of organizing in the solidly RTW South for his union, and discovered that RTW is better for unions, too:

“To me, it helps [unions] …. I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds...

The RTW wave in New Mexico has been driven in part by its economic benefits — The U.S. Department of Labor found RTW states and counties created jobs twice as fast between 1990 and 2014 (46 percent job growth compared to 20 percent). Kentucky alone created 110,000 jobs the first year after passing RTW, and unemployment fell to a 42 year low, according to the same data.

Kentucky especially set an economic development record for new investment with over $9B in new investment, including $1.3 billion by Braidy Industries in a state-of-the-art steel plant the Wall Street Journal called "The Mill that Right to Work Built."

Union leaders say they don’t want “cheap jobs” that employers who seek RTW offer. Rubbish.  The Braidy plant, near Kentucky’s depressed coalfields, will pay $50,000 - $70,000/ year – twice the local median income.

Union leaders – public and private sector – really worry that they will have to work harder. Without a monopoly on dues money, union bosses make $20,000 less than their peers in forced dues states.

Coskey says, “I have less sympathy for union leaders who are afraid to work hard for their members than I do for people who don't get their money’s worth.”

Union leaders like Coskey and Casteel aren’t alone. The Father of the American labor movement, Samuel Gompers agreed: “No lasting gain has ever come from compulsion. If we seek to force, we but tear apart that which, united, is invincible.”

Thanks to the Supreme Court and Janus, all government employees in the US have the Right-to-Work whether they pay dues or not. Shouldn’t the people paying their salaries - like private sector employees in New Mexico – enjoy those same freedoms?

Brent Yessin is a labor attorney advising New Mexico counties on RTW. Matt Patterson is president of 1st Amendment First.