The House dealt a blow to one of the key Republican priorities, soundly defeating right-to-work legislation Thursday and then voting not to discuss the issue again during the remainder of the two-year session.
Senate Bill 61 had passed the Senate on a 13-11 vote; supporters believed this year would be the best opportunity they would have to make New Hampshire the only state in the Northeast with right-to-work.
The bill would prohibit collective bargaining agreements from requiring all employees to pay for the negotiating and administering costs of master contracts.
Similar bills have been before the legislature for almost forty years, but none has become law, instead killed by the House or Senate, or successfully vetoed by the governor.
Proponents say right-to-work promotes worker choice and forces unions to provide better services. They also claim it will spur companies to move or expand in New Hampshire, however, the claim is controversial.
But opponents say it is “right-to-work-for-less”, union busting in favor of executives and investors, and un-American because it forces unions to provide their services for free to non-members.
Supporters had an early signal the bill was in trouble when a proposed amendment to make the bill more palatable to members, was voted down 190-183, although the final vote was a larger margin 199-175.
Supporters of right-to-work said it is a matter of value and freedom of choice, but opponents said it intrudes into a business relationship between employers and their employees.
“It is unfair for non-union employees to reap the benefits of collective bargaining agreements,” said Rep. Donald Bouchard, D-Manchester, “while their fellow employees cover the cost with their union dues.”
He said federal law already protects workers who do not want to join a union and instead they pay a reduced fee to cover the costs of negotiations and administering the contract.
Wages are higher in non right-to-work states, and workplaces are safer, while worker fatalities are 54 percent higher in right-to-work states, Bouchard said.
“The real purpose of this legislation is to tilt the balance toward business and further rig the system at the expense of the state’s working families,” he said. “They want to make everyone an at will worker.”
But bill supporters said companies will be knocking at the state’s door if right-to-work passes, and say those states with the provision have higher rates of job growth.
The growth is greatest in small manufacturing, said Rep. Tim Baxter, R-Seabrook, which will attract more employers to move to the state.
“No worker to keep his job and put food on the table should violate his conscience to join a union and be forced to fund political speech that violates his deeply held view,” he said.
Rep. Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington, told of his 36-year involvement with the pilots association for American Airlines often in leadership roles.
He said 99 percent of the pilots joined the union as he did because they received value for their money.
“The value I received from my union provided an adequate return on my investment,” he said.
He said if he does not believe he is receiving value for his investment, he should have the freedom to not pay union dues.
“This is not about union busting,” Turcotte said. “This is about the value received and freedom of choice.”
He urged members to approve the bill.
But Rep. Tim Soucy, D-Concord, said right-to-work is government involvement where it should not be.
“It is government interference with private business relationships,” he said. “New Hampshire has a long legislative history of not interfering with private relationships, why do we want to do it now?”
After the vote, the head of one of New Hampshire’s largest labor unions praised the House’s action.
“These bills are nothing more than out of state, corporate interests looking to take advantage of our lawmakers, our businesses, and our workers,” said AFL-CIO New Hampshire president Glenn Bracket. “They deprive workers of their freedom to join together and form strong unions if they choose to. And they have no business being a part of how we do things here in New Hampshire.”
The head of the national right-to-work organization said the vote is getting closer to passage in New Hampshire and vowed to try again next year.
“Right to Work supporters remain fully committed to ending forced unionism in New Hampshire, and I’m confident they will be back with even more energy next year to put Right to Work over the top,” said Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Committee. “This is a setback for New Hampshire and its citizens, but I remain confident that Granite Staters will ultimately enjoy the freedom and economic prosperity that come from a Right to Work law.”
By the House’s vote to indefinitely postpone the bill, no further action can be taken on right-to-work until a new legislature is elected.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured: Union members and supporters gathered Thursday before the House session at the NH Sportsplex in Bedford to show their opposition to right-to-work legislation. (Photo by Arnie Alpert)