Thursday, November 20, 2014

In New Mexico, Republican Controlled State House and Governor Are Taking Out Their Knives To Gut Workers' Rights



In the most recent November election, a Republican Governor was re-elected and the State House of New Mexico went Republican for the first time since 1953.

Elections have consequences.  And the consequences of a dispirited and disengaged majority Democratic electorate who didn't vote in the November election will be severe, indeed.

New Mexico has the largest disparity in income between its wealthiest citizens and its poorest citizens of all the states. It's economy has lagged and faltered while the rest of the nation has steadily recovered since the recession ended in 2009.  The majority of New Mexicans have suffered economically and societally to the point that they have turned their back on the politicians who appeal for their support at election time.  The Democratic candidate for Governor lacked the charisma, the political support of the Democratic Party, and the money to gain the attention of the voters against a daily barrage of negative political ads paid for by overwhelmingly out-of-state conservative corporate and political interests.  The absence of a winning candidate for the governorship hurt many down-ticket Democrats including those running for the State House of Representatives. The fact that the Republican Secretary of State eliminated "straight ticket voting" as a voting option also hurt down-ticket Democrats who were less well-known on a very long ballot.  Again, elections have consequences.  When the first Republican SOS (Diane Duran) in NM in 80 years made a decision to eliminate straight party voting in 2010, they knew that this would benefit the Republican Party in future New Mexico elections.  The Albuquerque Journal wrote in June, 2012:
Straight party votes accounted for 41 percent of ballots cast statewide in the 2010 general election. About 23 percent of the election’s total votes were Democratic straight-ticket ballots and 18 percent were Republican, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
What remains unclear is whether elimination of the straight-ticket option will disproportionately help or hurt Democratic or Republican candidates.
“This could have major implications,” said Brian Sanderoff, an Albuquerque pollster and longtime observer of New Mexico elections.
It’s far from certain whether voters who cast straight-ticket ballots in the past will continue to support only the candidates of their favored party by marking ballots in each individual race. People might simply skip voting in lower profile races as they go through a potentially long ballot.
“Would one group be more likely to split their ticket when they don’t have an opportunity to vote for a straight ticket? Would one group be more likely to fall off and not vote for the down-ballot races? How would it affect local races and legislative races? These are big questions,” Sanderoff said.

Now that the election is over and the state House, the Governor, and the Mayor of the largest city in New Mexico are Republican, what can the working people of New Mexico expect from their elected leaders?  Knives are already being pulled out to gut laws passed that protect workers rights, wages and benefits.  High on their list is something the Republican Governor failed to achieve in the last legislative session when Democrats who controlled both the Senate and the House refused to do: make New Mexico a "Right-to-Work" state.  "Right-to-Work" legislation is a scheme of Republican politicians to break unions and eliminate one of the most powerful voices and source of political contributions against their corporate agenda.   The Republican Mayor of New Mexico's largest city of Albuquerque, who has mismanaged an out of control police force and failed in two terms as Mayor to bring significant economic recovery to the city, quickly seized the Republican mantra that somehow unions are at fault for a city rapidly disintegrating under his command:
He [Mayor Richard Berry] said that he's spoken to several in the legislature about changing the state's laws that today require anyone joining a unionized force to also join the union. This year, several are expecting the measure to pass the New Mexico House of Representatives, which is newly Republican controlled.
"It's a political sword, and I know that," he said. [Emphasis added}

Scott Walker, GOP Governor in Wisconsin, when facing a disintegrating economic situation  in his state, used the same political playbook when he went after public unions in his state.  Walker promised in 2010 when he was elected that he would "get government out of the way of employers ... will then help Wisconsin create 250,000 jobs by 2015, and as we create those new jobs, we will be able to add 10,000 new businesses.”  But Scott Walker has a problem:  despite his heavy handed destruction of public employee's bargaining rights and incurring divisiveness among the people, he has failed to deliver on his promise that new economic opportunities would materialize.  Walker also is the same guy to say that a $7.25/hour minimum wage is a "living wage" and refused to increase it in his state.  Sounds a lot like the position NM Governor Susana Martinez and Mayor Berry have on the issue where one sixth of New Mexico's workforce would have an immediate benefit from a raise to the minimum wage.   The Republican argument for RTW laws sounds a lot like their support for "free trade" laws and protecting off-shore profits from taxation when manufacturing companies abandoned the USA for the lowest wage countries without unions, minimum wage laws or other worker protections and environmental regulations.  

So, do so-called "Right-to-Work" laws really benefit workers,  or only corporate interests?  On this issue, Media Matters has some interesting facts here.  I can speak personally about my own experience working for 27 years for a large (Fortune 500) defense contractor in San Diego, California.  For twenty of those years,  I was a union member.  We had a Union Security clause in our contract which required all hourly workers in the bargaining unit to join the union (IAM&AW, AFL-CIO).  Political objectors could make a request to only have dues  taken out that represented their  "fair share of dues used directly for representation"  which meant any dues used for political or union organizing, social events (our local had tickets for the Padres games as door prizes at union meetings), or anything else not related to representing the worker would not have to be paid for by an "objector".  In this way they did pay for full representation in grievances and collective bargaining. When I got hired in 1977, I was a 26 year old single woman working for NCR in San Diego (a non-union company) where I was earning $2.90 an hour as an electronic assembler.  I was hired at General Dynamics as an electronic assembler for $3 an hour and received a "cost-of-living" increase (per negotiated contract) of 11 cents just two weeks later.  I got company-paid dental, medical, life insurance after 90 days of employment, 5 days sick leave and two weeks paid vacation per year.  I was also earning credit toward a retirement pension and was eligible for a stock and savings investment plan where I got $1 of company stock for each dollar I set aside in a savings plan (this was before 401k plans).  So I was very happy and feeling much more secure economically.  My union steward met me on the job in the first 5 days and gave me a copy of the bargaining agreement.  He answered all my questions and supported me whenever I needed back-up with company management.  Most important of all, I was accruing seniority for every day I worked (which was very important when layoffs happened years later).  I got several promotions and won grievances when I was treated unfairly (like the time I applied for a new job as a printer and was the only employee in-house with printing press experience when the manager hired his friend from the outside). 

All the salaried (non-union employees) eagerly awaited the conclusion of collective bargaining every 3 years because they got wherever the union successfully bargained for. In the 1990's, the company wanted to eliminate pensions for employees and have everyone voluntarily fund their own retirement through risky 401k plans.  The union said "no" because we had a contract; the salaried employees lost the right for future pension credit.  I was laid off once in 1995 and was out for a year.  I was recalled (thanks to 18 years of seniority) when work picked up and I left my non-union job that paid $9/hour (no benefits) to return to my union job that paid more than $11 an hour and I still had all my benefits and retirement pension credit intact, thanks to our collective bargaining agreement.  I was now a single mom with two children, so I took a higher paying salaried job in 1997 and lost my seniority and union security.  But as a 20 year employee, I had earned 6 weeks of paid time off per year (thanks to our collective bargaining agreement). I worked salaried for another seven years when the company laid me off at age 54.  The company replaced me with a college-hire with no pension, lower salary, fewer benefits.  Because of the collective bargaining agreement, I was able to take early retirement at age 55 and receive my pension which was nearly $900 a month.  

Now I can look at my good fortune and totally credit it to my union membership.  If California had been a "right-to-work" state, I am sure I would not have been so fortunate as the union would have been extremely weak in its bargaining position with a large and powerful employer.   I paid my union dues for over 20 years and feel it was totally worth it.  As I look at my fellow citizens in New Mexico, I know that those who work union are much better off than those who do not.  I know that if the Republicans are successful in breaking the unions here in New Mexico, then the few fortunate workers who have made it to middle-class comfort will be pushed into poverty and those low wage non-union workers who aspire to climbing out of poverty will be blocked in their aspirations.

Don't sit this one out, my fellow New Mexicana.  "United we stand, divided we fall."  The Democratic NM state senate will need to stay strong and resist any "deals" to make this state a "Right-to-Work-for Less" state.