State workers’ union not pushing pay issue

By Kate Nash: The New Mexican

State-employee union members are counting their blessings that New Mexico hasn’t seen layoffs and furloughs of government workers like so many other states this year.

As a nod to the tough economic times, they’ve agreed to take a zero percent pay raise through the end of the 2010 fiscal year.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees dropped an earlier request for a one-time $1,500 “cost of living” payment, plus a raise of between 25 cents and $1 an hour. At a press conference and rally at the Capitol on Thursday, members of AFSCME and the Communications Workers of America gave thanks for continued employment and pledged to focus on several bills this session related to unions.

The first (HB245) would allow licensed home child-care providers to join any labor organization.

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, is carrying the measure. A similar version (SB402) is being carried by Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa.

House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, is sponsoring a measure (HB329) that would use collective-bargaining agreements to set the prevailing wage for public projects.

Lujan said that when the Congress passes a stimulus package, he wants to see the jobs it creates pay the prevailing wage.

Another pair of measures, SB164 and HB15, deal with employee discipline. Under current law, classified employees covered by a collective-bargaining agreement who are subject to dismissal, demotion or suspension can appeal to the State Personnel Board within 30 days.

The measure would allow the employee to chose to appeal using third party arbitration or to the State Personnel Board.

One bill that union members are working against this session is HB421. Known as the Right to Work Act, the bill, which has come up repeatedly in the Roundhouse, would “prohibit making hiring, promotion or continued employment conditional on becoming or remaining a member of a labor organization or paying dues or fees to any kind of labor organization,” according to a legislative analysis.

Sponsored by Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, it was tabled Thursday by the House Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Meanwhile, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees say they are at an impasse in their current round of negotiations with the Gov. Bill Richardson administration.

Union members will continue under their current contract until a new one is agreed upon.

A key sticking point for the union agreement was over how long internal investigations of employees could last. Union officials said the administration wanted unlimited time for investigations; the current limit is 45 days.

State officials have declined to talk about ongoing negotiations. Members of the union and the administration plan to meet again in late March.

Contact Kate Nash at 986-3036 or knash@sfnewmexican.com.