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Although the Eddy County Commission was not yet presenting a definitive ordinance on the issue, Tuesday’s board meeting at the Artesia Public Schools Administration Building began with a passionate public comment period regarding the county’s intention to consider instating right-to-work laws.

Right-to-work is a controversial statute, currently operating in 28 states, that prohibits corporations and workers’ unions from entering into union security agreements.

Proponents generally argue – as they did at Tuesday’s meeting – that right-to-work simply gives workers a choice in whether or not to join a union and be required to pay union dues. Detractors, however, say the law tilts power toward corporations rather than workers, often resulting in lower average wages and a lack of job security.

State Rep. Jim Townsend of Artesia, Carla Sonntag, president of the New Mexico Business Coalition, and City of Artesia Economic Development Director Michael Bunt were among those speaking in favor of the action, with Bunt stating “90 percent” of his meetings with corporate site selectors involve questions as to whether Artesia is “right-to-work” and that “those meetings trail off pretty quick” when the answer is no.

Union representatives and members countered that the burgeoning effort to enact right-to-work laws on a county-by-county basis rather than as a statewide ordinance was a veiled effort by outside special-interest groups serving major corporations in an attempt to pressure states into adoption.

“It has been shown widely that right-to-work, across the board, has been bad for the places that have passed it,” said Christopher Saavedra of Albuquerque. “Right now, I just ask you guys to keep government out of the workplace.”

Bertha Lujan, a member of the food service industry, said unions defend worker rights that would otherwise not be guaranteed by their employers.

“When it comes to break times, when it comes to my raise, when it comes to my bonuses, when it comes to especially healthcare for my family, I know it’s there because it’s set specifically there in my contract.

“If you take and put something in place like right-to-work, then corporations benefit from it and not the people. Our salaries are not guaranteed otherwise. Our benefits are not guaranteed otherwise. If worse comes to worse, you lose your job, and you have no safety net.”

The debate may have been rendered null and void Wednesday morning, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the case of Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, effectively making the entire U.S. public sector a right-to-work zone and dealing what unions have termed a “sweeping and historic blow” to the labor movement.

The commission elected Tuesday to consider its potential right-to-work ordinance at its July 17 meeting in Carlsbad.

In other business Tuesday, the commission approved the issuance of a Small Brewer Application License to Hopscotch Brewing, LLC, located at 1 E. Cottonwood Road, the former home of Cottonwood Wine and Brewing.

Owner and head brewer Travis Carlo, who has been brewing professionally for approaching one year, said Hopscotch hopes to give the previously-established site more of a “venue-type atmosphere” and to join other breweries in Southeast New Mexico in making this area of the state “more enjoyable” to visit.

The board heard a lengthy presentation on the condition, maintenance and operational needs of the Eddy County Detention Center from CGL, which was contracted by the county in September to assess the aging facility.

The consultants identified a number of concerns, such as an inadequate fire protection system, lack of secure parking for staff, and issues with the layout and multiple uses of the center’s entry and exit points.

“Hopefully, we can do some modifications until that time when we can start looking at building a new jail,” said Commissioner Stella Davis.

The commission awarded a contract for general legal services for Eddy County to the Carlsbad-based firm of Tabor, Byers, LLP, and approved the action of setting aside 10 percent of new collected revenue for Fiscal Year 2018-19 into a “rainy-day fund.”

“You hope oil never goes down again, but you always assume it will, and (this) makes sure that we are responsible and taken care of,” said Commissioner Jon Henry.

The board also agreed to set a public hearing on an Eddy County Off-Highway Vehicle Ordinance. Rather than hold two separate public meetings in Carlsbad and Artesia, Community Services director Wesley Hooper expressed a need to “move this process up.” The commission agreed to review the ordinance at its July 3 meeting and set a public hearing for its regularly-scheduled meeting Aug. 7 in Carlsbad.

In final business, the commission commended Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage for his recent election as president of the New Mexico Association of Counties, as well as his receipt of two major awards: the Magnus Princeps insignia and Magnus ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ medallion.

Cage was one of 60 sheriffs out of an eligible 3,086 in the nation to receive the Princeps award and the only sheriff in the nation to receive both from the National Command & Staff College.

“That’s a testament to the folks I work with,” he said.