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'Right to Work' states may have leg up in race for Tesla battery factory

Updated: 09/01/2014 6:16 PM | Created: 09/01/2014 6:06 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

ALBUQUERQUE -- Labor Day 2014 sheds light on one critical labor issue that could torpedo New Mexico's chances of landing the new Tesla Motors "gigafactory" and its 6,500 new jobs.

Mentioning "Right to Work" at an event like the annual Labor Day picnic in Old Town Albuquerque's Tiguex Park is a little bit like cussing in church, but eventually you'll find union members who want to share their opinions. It's a red meat issue for unions. In a "Right to Work" state there is no compulsory union membership. It's voluntary, and it weakens the bargaining power of unions and union members. That's why many big-time employers love it, and won't consider opening a factory in a state that doesn't have a "Right to Work" law on the books.

Of the five finalist states for the Tesla plant, three are "Right to Work" states – Nevada, Arizona, and Texas. California and New Mexico are not. Tesla or no Tesla, that's not likely to change in our state, if unions can keep their grip on New Mexico's Democratic Party, and the party keeps its grip on the New Mexico legislature. They've managed to do that for almost all of the past 80 years or so.

"Everybody does have a right to work," said union member Daniel Rivera. "But also, everybody has a right to representation. Everybody has a right to dignity - everybody has a right to respect as the working class - and unions bring that to people."

"I'm a little afraid that if Right to Work goes through, people aren't going to pay living wages," said small business owner Peg Swisher, whose husband is a union member. "What you're going to see is people getting people to work for less. I think it's ludicrous as for that, when the minimum wage goes up, companies decide that they don't want to pay it."

"What does the head guy at General Motors make – 300 or 400 million dollars a year?" asks Peg's husband Mike, a sheet metal worker. "The guy on the line is making like 30 or 40 bucks an hour, and people want Right to Work. Well, if the union represents everybody in the workplace, then everybody should pay some for the representation."

The United Autoworkers Union is already trying to unionize Tesla's California assembly plant. The company listed unionization as one of its risk factors in its annual report.


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