February 17, 2017
By Steven Wishnia
Concord, NH - The New Hampshire state House voted 200-177 Feb. 16 to reject a bill that would have outlawed the union shop, preventing the Granite State from becoming the first one in the Northeast with such a law.
“It’s an extremely significant and gratifying win for organized labor,” Jim Durkin, legislative director for AFSCME Council 93, which represents more than 4,000 public-sector workers in New Hampshire, told LaborPress.
More than 30 Republicans, who hold a 223-174 majority in the House, voted to defeat the so-called “right to work” bill, which would have made it illegal for union contracts to require nonmembers to pay fees to cover the cost of representation. No Democrats voted for it. The House also voted against allowing any reconsideration of it until the 2019 session.
Union members wearing “Right to Work Is Wrong for Workers” filled the House galleries. “Today a bipartisan majority confirmed that ‘Right to Work’ is still wrong for New Hampshire, and this vote should be the final nail in the coffin,” state AFL-CIO President Glenn Brackett said in a statement. “Across the Granite State, working people stood together against this corporate-backed legislation that would cripple our ability to speak up on the job. We thank the legislators who let workers’ voices rise above special interests.’”
The bill passed the state Senate 12-11 last month, and Gov. Chris Sununu said he would sign it. House Speaker Shawn Jasper, who supported the bill but was reluctant to denounce fellow Republicans who opposed it, took the unusual step of turning the duty of presiding over the floor to another representative, so he could vote for it.
House Majority Leader Dick Hinch argued that the bill “is not union-busting,” but “gives individuals the choice to participate and contribute, or not, based on their own best judgment.” It’s “a direct attack on our livelihood,” responded Rep. Sean Morrison, a Republican who works as a union firefighter in the state’s coastal region.
Outside groups, such as Americans for Prosperity and the National Right to Work Committee, had lobbied hard for the bill, hoping that with Republicans having won control of the governorship and both houses of the state General Court last November, New Hampshire would join Kentucky and Missouri as states that have banned the union shop this year. That would have given union opponents a major geographic beachhead: None of the 28 states that have enacted such laws are in New England or the Northeast.
When the bill was introduced in January, Durkin says, it was “viewed as a slam-dunk.” But unions built a strong bipartisan coalition “purely from the grass-roots level.” They held meetings in legislators’ districts, knocked on their office doors, had constituents call them, and met with leaders.
Persuading GOP members to go against their party leadership, he says, was a matter of “simply arming them with the facts” about how the bill would hurt workers and not help the state’s economy. Jim Roche, president of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, inadvertently debunked the argument that it was primarily about workers’ freedom to abstain from funding unions on Feb. 8, when he told the House Labor Committee, “I think the underlying point is that in ‘right-to-work’ states, organized labor often has less success organizing.” If an employer can avoid having to negotiate with a union, he added, “that’s a positive for them.”
It also helped, Durkin adds, that key groups lobbying for the bill came from out of state and were clearly trying to “crush the power of labor.’
“They thought they had a clear win in the Granite State,” he says. “But they were wrong.”
Unions’ next battle in New Hampshire, he adds, will be against a bill that would prevent them from having dues deducted from public-sector workers’ paychecks.