By Claus Whiteacre
For the fifth time since she took office on Jan. 1, Governor Susana Martinez is being sued at the New Mexico Supreme Court.
This time, several unions are questioning the legality of her actions in firing all members of the state’s labor relations board.
Like the other four suits, this latest legal action revolves around the question of whether Gov. Martinez violated the state’s separation of powers by exceeding her authority as chief executive.
Unions Sue the Governor
In the suit, filed last week, the New Mexico Federation of Labor AFL-CIO and several of its affiliates challenge the legality of her dismissal of the Public Employee Labor Relations Board and its executive director.
In New Mexico, the Public Employee Labor Relations Board enforces public sector bargaining rights and handles disputes.
By law, the board consists of three members appointed by the governor: one recommended by labor, one recommended by public employers (effectively, the governor’s choice), and a third, jointly recommended by the other two appointees. The board itself then hires an executive director.
Gov. Martinez fired executive director Pam Gentry on Feb. 5 and has interviewed prospective replacements — usurping the PELRB’s personnel decisions.
On March 1, Martinez removed board members John Boyd, recommended by labor; Martin Dominguez, recommended by public employers; and Duff Westbrook, who was jointly recommended.
State law guarantees unions the right to seek redress on behalf of wronged employees, but the removal of the labor board and its executive director means they have nowhere to go, union lawyers have said. Any negotiations, including collective bargaining, are also on hold.
In a statement last week, NMFL AFL-CIO president Christine Trujillo said:
“Governor Susana Martinez exceeded her authority in firing the entire Public Labor Relations Board in violation of state law. Her agenda is no different from that of Republican Wisconsin Governor Walker…she, along with the Tea Party-controlled Republican Party across the United States are attempting to pick off the rights of American workers to collectively provide safe and equitable work environments.”
In the lawsuit, the unions are seeking an order directing the governor to reinstate or reappoint the current PELRB members (specifically members John Boyd and Duff Westbrook) to their positions on the board.
Additionally, the unions are seeking an order prohibiting the governor from interfering in the board’s decision to hire an executive director of the PELRB.
The Supreme Court has ordered Gov. Martinez to respond to the union’s lawsuit by April 1. The court has scheduled oral arguments in the case for April 13.