In light of Republicans capturing control of the state House after 60 years in the minority, Albuquerque Business First’s Dan Mayfield highlighted what policies could have a greater chance of passage in the upcoming legislative session, and high on the list is right-to-work.
As of Jan.1 this year, 24 states are right-to-work states, wherein labor unions are barred from including so-called union-security clauses in collective bargaining agreements with employers. In the remaining collective-bargaining states, of which New Mexico is one, unions may require all workers covered by the agreement to pay dues or fees to cover the cost of bargaining activities. In other words, workers may be required to join a union as a condition of their continued employment.
Union leaders have long argued that since a union represents all workers, and since all workers of a bargaining unit benefit from collective bargaining, each worker must pay his or her fair share of dues or else unfairly receive a free ride.
Like unions, chambers of commerce are member associations. The Internal Revenue Service has described chambers as “direct[ing] their efforts at promoting the common economic interests of all the commercial enterprises in a given … community.”
ALL the commercial enterprises in a given community, it said, even the nonmembers – the “free riders,” in union parlance. And the IRS requires a chamber, as an exempt organization under Section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code, to have a “meaningful level” of membership support.
But unlike unions, chambers have never guaranteed their income by codifying dues payments from those they represent. In fact, in 1913, when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sought tax exemption through the forerunner of IRC 501(c)(6), it argued in congressional hearings that when chambers of commerce “succeed in their purposes, they increase the incomes, not of themselves, but of the individuals in their communities, irrespective of membership in the organizations.” But to keep the doors open, chambers must earn that meaningful level of membership support by demonstrating their value and, bottom line, actively selling memberships. Chambers have to prove their worth. How is it fair that unions don’t have to do the same?
So for now, New Mexico is a “right-to-dues” state for unions, by statute and by contract. I’m envious, because the Hobbs Chamber must live the mantra “evolve or dissolve” every day, because it is no more immune to negative market forces than our member businesses. We chambers are scrapping to remain valuable, viable and sustainable, and it’s a tough environment. Earlier this year, Albuquerque Business First reported the revenue and net income of 25 New Mexico chambers of commerce, pulled from each organization’s 2012 tax return. Of the 25 chambers listed, 40 percent showed net losses. The Hobbs Chamber, for one, could not withstand consecutive years of net losses, and I assume many of our peers couldn’t either. Can a city’s commercial body afford to see a community institution like the chamber of commerce dissolve?
What to do? For starters, I challenge every New Mexico business owner, executive and manager: Corporate citizenship begins with a membership in the community chamber of commerce. Support the organization that supports you by being a member of the chamber of commerce of each community in which your business operates. If you’re not sold on moral obligation alone, then let me tell you, first among your member benefits is that chamber membership dues, sponsorships and fees paid are tax-deductible business expenses. Some businesses can deduct as much 60 cents of every dollar.
Today in Hobbs, one in about five Hobbs-area businesses is a Hobbs Chamber member. While a sampling of businesses reflecting the wider business community is passable, it doesn’t take a statistician to know a chamber best represents “all the commercial enterprises” when 100 percent of those businesses are on the membership rolls. Sure solves the question of sustainability, as well. Thus, we have articulated the goal to be a “100% Chamber Community” – that the Hobbs Chamber will continuously strive to earn 100 percent of the Hobbs area’s licensed businesses as its members.
So, here’s a challenge to every community chamber of commerce to do the same: let’s compete for bragging rights to see who can come closest to being a “100% Chamber Community” by June 30, 2015. Who’s in?
Grant Taylor is the president and CEO of the Hobbs Chamber of Commerce.

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