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New Hampshire Nixes ‘Right to Work for Less’

CONCORD, N.H.—“Right to work for less” legislation will not gain its first beachhead in the Northeast.

On June 3, the New Hampshire House of Representatives rejected Senate Bill 61, which would have prohibited “collective bargaining agreements that require employees to join a labor union” and made the Granite State the first in the Northeast with such a law.

The House voted 199-175 against a motion that the bill ought to pass, and then voted 196-178 to postpone it indefinitely. The second vote means that the bill, passed by the state Senate in February, cannot be reconsidered until the 2023 legislative session unless a two-thirds majority votes to bring it up.

No Democrats voted in favor of the bill, while 20 Republicans voted against it. The session was held in an indoor sports facility in Bedford, about 25 miles south of Concord, to enable social distancing not possible in the state capitol.

“We are extraordinarily grateful for our lawmakers who made the decision today to side with us and our workers to defeat this harmful bill,” state AFL-CIO President Glenn Brackett posted on Twitter June 3.

“The state House stood on the side of working families today by defeating the so-called right-to-work bill,” Rep. Doug Ley (D-Jaffrey) president of the American Federation of Teachers-New Hampshire, said in an email to LaborPress. “Workers deserve a seat at the table and should be able to speak up for decent wages and benefits, a retirement with dignity, and safe workplace conditions. Unions give workers an avenue to raise important issues with their employers and protect their right to negotiate these issues without government interference. They provide a path to a better life, and it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure unions are available to those who want to join.”

Similar bills have been beaten back regularly over the past 40 years. They came closest in 2011, when one passed both houses of the legislature, but was vetoed by then-governor John Lynch, a Democrat. 

This year, however, union leaders feared that the wave of hardline Trumpist members elected when the Republicans gained control of both the House and Senate were too ideologically driven to be persuaded to vote no, unlike the traditional frugal conservatives and libertarians who have historically made up much of New Hampshire’s GOP. When a “right-to-work” bill passed the Senate in 2017, the House defeated it by 200-177, with more than 30 Republicans voting no.

Ironically, the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. John Reagan (R-Deerfield), is a retired International Association of Fire Fighters member. He has been a union member since he was 15 years old, he told LaborPress in an email in February, but now sees unions as “captives of the socialist Democrat Party.” 

National organizations such as the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and Americans for Prosperity had sought to make New Hampshire the first Northeastern state to prohibit what they call “compulsory unionism.” None of the 16 Northeastern and Pacific states have such laws, while all but seven in the rest of the country do. 

But they won limited local support, aside from the state Business and Industry Association and Gov. Chris Sununu. At the House Labor Committee’s hearings on the bill in March, all but 10 of the 71 witnesses opposed it. The nearly 2,000 public comments on the measure ran more than 8–1 against it.

“The defeat of this bill was an enormous victory for the thousands of New Hampshire residents who stood up and spoke out,” Mike Smith, president of the New Hampshire Building Trades Coalition, said in a statement. He called the measure “an attempt by large corporate special-interest groups to lower pay and standards for New Hampshire workers.”

“There is a long history in New Hampshire of mutually beneficial negotiated agreements around working conditions, and it serves the New Hampshire economy well,” the AFL-CIO’s Brackett said. “Good riddance to this ridiculous proposal that would only have hurt New Hampshire workers and reduced safety and freedom for workers in nearly every industry.”

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