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New Hampshire flirts with Right-to-Work

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April 13, 2011

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Concord, NEW HAMPSHIRE: Four Republicans on New Hampshire's Senate Commerce Committee moved the Granite State one step closer to becoming a Right-to-Work state by making it illegal for unions to force non-members to bear costs for collective bargaining.

Two months ago, a controversial bill, HB 474, cleared the lower chamber; 221 members of New Hampshire Republican dominated House of Representatives agreed that the state should become a Right-to-Work stronghold.[1]

The Governor, four-term Democrat John Lynch, has promised a veto, but advocates of the bill could override a veto if they picked up enough votes to pull off a supermajority vote. Union advocates and Democratic legislators have spoken out against the bill, the Senate committee's sole Democrat, Matthew Houde, lamented the loss of money New Hampshire's various unions would have for advocating programs if the bill were to pass.[2]

As the committee deliberated, Houde repeatedly rejected arguments the right-to-work legislation would draw business to the state, a key argument of advocates, who also held that employees who have already declined a union's services by not joining should be protected from attempts to make them pay dues anyway.

New Hampshire protects a worker's right not to join a union, but within so-called "closed shops," the union may legally require all employees to pay for cost of collective bargaining sessions. HB 474 would end that, raising the costs on the members who do remain in unions.[3]

A union representative countered that such practices make sense for employers for allowing them to avoid negotiating separately with their non-unionized workers. While Governor Lynch might echo that argument in a veto, HB 474 must still pass the full Senate before he gets that chance.

The GOP has 294 members in the House, but not all of them are necessarily on board for breaking a veto. Despite its "Live Free or Die" moniker and the undisputed zeal of legislators who do support weakening the power a closed shop can have, New Hampshire also sits squarely in New England, and would be the region's only Right-to-Work state if HB 474 becomes law.

The Senate is equally lopsided - Republicans are 19 of the chamber's 24 members - but some of the same issues could come to play.

When the bill passed the House, Republican leadership made it clear getting the legislation through was a priority. However, the state's organized labor groups responded by announcing they would redouble efforts to kill the bill in the Senate.

See also