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New Mexico, Delaware counties explore right-to-work ordinances

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The absence of right-to-work laws in New Mexico and Delaware are prompting counties to address the issue 

Illinois recently missed an opportunity to land a $1.6 billion car manufacturing plant and the 4,000 jobs that went along with it. Some say one of the reasons was because it is not a “right-to-work” state. Illinois finds itself surrounded by right-to-work states, including Missouri, which passed its law earlier this year.

Attempts to pass right-to-work laws by state lawmakers in Illinois have gone up in flames in recent years. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Sept. 29 vetoed a bill that would have prevented counties from setting up their own “right to work” zones. It remains to be seen whether any counties there might enact their own right-to-work ordinances.

Counties are increasingly getting into the act when right-to-work measures fail in statehouses. In all, 28 states have passed right-to-work laws. Supporters of right-to-work laws say the measures help grow the economy, but opponents say such laws are passed to break up organized labor, hurt blue-collar workers and limit revenues from union members.

When Kentucky didn’t pass a right-to-work law a few years back, Hardin County and other counties there passed their own right-to-work laws; Hardin County was then sued by United Auto Workers Local 3047. After a U.S. District Court ruled against the county, the county appealed to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court and won. According to Law360, a legal news and analysis service, the fact that the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court declined in March to revisit its earlier ruling “leaves the door open for local governments to enact such measures where no statewide law exists.” On Oct. 2, the Supreme Court declined to hear a petition that sought to overturn the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

“Conservative counties in states outside the Sixth Circuit that don’t have the right-to-work laws may very well follow the lead of this Kentucky county,” said Lisa Soronen, executive director of the State Local Legal Center. “If they are sued, the best-case scenario for them is that their federal appellate court follows the lead of the Sixth Circuit. The worst-case scenario is their appellate court does not, creating a circuit split and increasing chances of Supreme Court review.”

A statewide right-to-work measure ultimately prevailed in Kentucky earlier this year, after Republicans gained control of the legislature for the first time since 1921.

Meanwhile right-to-work measures are popping up in other counties around the country including in two states that do not have statewide right-to-work laws — Delaware and New Mexico.

In Sandoval County, New Mexico, county commissioners voted 4 to 1, Nov. 2, to publish a proposed right-to-work ordinance. Commissioners Jay Block and David Heil, sponsors of the proposal, say that the legislation would help the county lure more businesses to the area and improve the economy.

If the right-to-work legislation moves forward, it would make Sandoval County the first county in New Mexico to have a right-to-work law. Bernalillo County is considering a similar measure.

A similar situation is playing out in Sussex County, Delaware, where a right-to-work measure was introduced Oct. 31. “Without a right to work ordinance, it is a fact that companies will not even look at you,” Sussex County Councilman Rob Arlett, who introduced the measure, said at the standing-room-only meeting.

“The next step is to hold a public hearing,” Arlett said; he expects that hearing to take place later this month. “I want to hear from my boss — the people who elected me.” Arlett said he hopes the commissioners will vote on the measure before the end of the year.

“I am being an advocate for this because it would give us an advantage,” he said, noting that the county lost a manufacturing plant because of its current status. “To me, this is a tool in the toolbox and in the end, could help our county.”

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