HB 364 is a massive union power grab

We’ve christened HB 364 as the “Union Empowerment Bill version 2”

The Union Empowerment Bill version 1 was SB 110.

HB 364 is a massive union power grab coming to the Senate floor soon. The Democrats have used “dummy bills” and other tricks to avoid a fair hearing on the issue.

This bill is designed to tilt the collective bargaining process and representation proceedings heavily against the interests of public employers—and thus of taxpayers and the citizens served by government entities subject to collective bargaining.

Even more, the bill compromises the privacy of public employees who want a fair process free of intimidation.

In addition, the bill would take power over labor issues away from local boards and jurisdictions and centralize it in the hands of the New Mexico Public Employees Labor Relations Board—an entity that is less likely to understand the particular circumstances of local employers and employees than the local boards and jurisdictions.

Problems for employee rights:

  • It allows the union to elect to have a card check certification instead of an election, and do so without the employer’s consent. Card check is not only more vulnerable to fraud; it also violates the employee’s right to privacy in making a choice to support the union or not, which opens them up to coercion and intimidation. If private elections are appropriate for government representation, why is it not appropriate for union representation?
  • The bill allows local labor boards to continue to exist only if every union (and the employer) under its jurisdiction petitions for its continuance. The petitions have to be unanimous. Thus, if four out of five unions under a labor board want to continue under the local board but a fifth does not, then the wishes of the majority of employees are ignored and the local board is abolished.
  • Under this process, only boards that are sufficiently favorable to union interests can survive. Also, this process is a one-way ratchet toward centralization. There is no process for reviving local boards that do not receive sufficient petitions to continue. The bill specifically says “whenever a local board ceases to exist for any reason, it may not be revived.” According to the Attorney General, this language does not seem to contemplate the possibility of an error in determining whether a local board may continue, and thus provides no remedy for such an error. An inconsistency in the bill is that while it allows for local labor boards to continue, it removes all of the language in the law that governs the nature, make-up, term limits, and jurisdiction of local boards.
  • Public employees are given only a 10-day window for revoking their authorization for dues deduction. The bill also provides that no such revocations can occur before July 10, 2020. These provisions are suspect under the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision, issued on June 27, 2018. In Janus, the Court held that forced dues are a violation of employee First Amendment rights. Further, Janus elaborates that respecting the employee’s First Amendment rights requires an opt-in procedure not an opt-out procedure. Under this bill, an employee can opt-in at any time, but once he has opted-in, he has no right to opt-out except under a procedure that is designed to make it easier for unions to retain members and then only after July 10, 2020. The constitutional question is: What conditions are unions permitted to place on employees exercising their constitutional rights?
  • The bill also denies to public employees the right to pursue legal action regarding “fair share” dues collected prior to the Court’s Janus decision. It preemptively resolves such litigation by holding the issue moot.
  • The bill compromises the privacy rights of public employees. It requires employers to provide names, job titles, work locations, home addresses, personal email addresses, and home or cellular telephone numbers of public employees in the proposed bargaining unit.
  • The bill expands the definition of public employee to any job funded by a grant—even if just partly by a grant. Under that provision, for example, employees of any private non-profit receiving grants would be subject to unionization.

Problems for employer rights:

  • The bill requires employers to allow public employee unions to conduct union work during work hours, use public employer email accounts for conducting union business, and use public facilities for meetings without compensation for that use. These provisions requiring public resources to be used for union business may violate the New Mexico constitution’s Anti-Donation Clause.
  • The bill creates uncertainty about what collective actions are allowed. It says: “Public employees have the right to engage in other concerted activities for mutual aid or benefit.” Other than stipulating that “other concerted activities” do not include strikes, the term is undefined. Do “other concerted activities” include walking off the job, refusal to perform job duties, refusal to work overtime, engaging in work slowdowns, sick-outs, sit-ins, name calling and use of profanity?
  • The bill creates an obligation on public employers to continue bargaining even while a collective bargaining agreement is in force. The threat of perpetual bargaining will create uncertainty in labor relations.
  • The bill changes the definition of management employee to require that such an employee must devote a majority of time to management or executive functions. This attempt to expand the number of employees subject to membership in a collective bargaining unit will especially affect smaller entities where management personnel must perform multiple functions.
  • The bill prohibits a public employer from using public funds to influence employees regarding supporting or opposing a labor organization or whether to become a member of any labor organization. The State Personnel Office writes: “[T]he term ‘influence’ could be used out of context and has the potential to be used out of context in potential grievances against the state.”
  • The bill gives labor boards the authority to go beyond the administrative remedies traditionally allowed and impose any remedies deemed appropriate including compensatory damages and injunctive relief. That type of power is normally given to courts, not administrative bodies.

Problems for democratic accountability:

  • The bill authorizes arbitrators to ignore local government appropriations in awarding monetary judgements, thereby transferring from elected officials the power of the purse to out-of-state arbitrators.
  • The bill states “a collective bargaining agreement that provides greater rights, remedies and procedures to public employees than contained in a state statute shall not be considered to be in conflict with that state statute.” Such a provision allows a collective bargaining agreement to amend state law. It hands the legislative power to a non-legislative body.
  • The bill reduces the power of local jurisdictions by eliminating their option to have a local ordinance or resolution governing collective bargaining.

Process problems:

  • Central New Mexico Community College writes:
    “The proposed changes to the law are so broad and overarching that passing such a bill in the limited time available during this session is a matter of grave concern because it does not provide an adequate opportunity to assess the impact. The substitute raises questions of constitutionality as it relates to recent Supreme Court decisions and the New Mexico Constitution’s anti-donation clause.”
  • About SB 110, which is identical to HB 364, the New Mexico Council of University Presidents writes:
    “Proponents say it took them a year to communicate with unions and develop SB 110(the original bill), but no public employers were ever consulted or notified of the proposed changes during the course of its development. […] [The bill] proposes significant and numerous changes to existing law that cannot be addressed in a few days’ time—and although some amendments have been discussed, it is unreasonable to expect public employers to reach consensus on a bill so quickly after its proponents had a year to do so. We ask that public employers be given a similar amount of time to communicate among the counties, cities, school districts, colleges and universities in order to review the legislation and work with the unions to address issues they have with current law. “

The Rio Grande Foundation remains committed to meaningful reform and opposes HB 364 in its entirety.