New Mexico union numbers half of national average as nation celebrates Labor Day

Updated: 09/01/2014 5:18 PM | Created: 09/01/2014 4:59 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

ALBUQUERQUE -- The 40-hour work week. Overtime. Paid vacations. No child labor. These are all labor movement achievements that most of us take for granted nowadays. Here in New Mexico, union membership is declining, but it’s not time to write the epitaph.

In a working population of about 750,000 New Mexicans, there are only 46,000 union members – 6.2 percent of the workforce.  That’s about half of the national union membership rate of 11 percent, which is itself about half of what it was 30 years ago. Union members enjoying the annual Labor Day festivities at Old Town Albuquerque’s Tiguex Park are painfully aware of the slide in their numbers.

“We fought for everybody’s rights - from child labor, to the 40-hour week and overtime,” said Mark Pearson, a union pipefitter. “It’s just to protect the workers, and they get good benefits like retirement and health insurance.”

“We were organizing the whole time,” said retired union machinist Pablo Trujillo. “We never stopped organizing. We’ve never stopped signing up new members, but it’s hard to keep up. If you organize a hundred members, they might lay off a thousand. It’s kind of hard. The odds are really against you.”

But unions retain a strong grip on the New Mexico legislature, controlled by Democrats who are mostly in lockstep with labor. Union members vote and they volunteer on campaigns, and Democratic politicians forget that at their peril.  Even though the state’s unions lost 4,000 members from 2012 to 2013, they are still a force to be reckoned with.

A sign of the times: a new Rasmussen Reports poll finds only 17 percent of Americans now believe that Labor Day is an important national holiday. For millions, the holiday seems to be just a reminder that summer is almost over.

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