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Right-to-work legislation changes considered for NH

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 10. 2016 8:15PM
Ovide Lamontagne, a Republican candidate for governor, speaks about his support for the Employee Freedom of Choice Act, during a right-to-work public hearing before the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitation Services Committee, at the State House in Concord in 2012. (UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER - Gov.-elect Chris Sununu said he's "fairly" confident the Legislature will pass a right-to-work bill in 2017 that he will sign, but it's too early to say whether it will include unions representing public - as well as private-sector - union members.

"It can come in a variety of different forms," Sununu told the New Hampshire Union Leader on Thursday. "Again, I would be open to any and all of it to be honest. I'm not fixed that it has to be everybody. I'm not fixed that certain groups definitely have to be carved out."

Republicans will control both legislative chambers and the governor's office starting next year, boosting the chances of legislation being signed into law. But Sununu cautioned against moving too fast.

"We can't just ram down a piece of legislation down everybody's throat," Sununu said. "We have to be good listeners on both sides of the aisle."

Right-to-work legislation, which recent Democratic governors have opposed, would prohibit labor unions from collecting fees to pay for negotiating and administering collective bargaining agreements from workers who benefit from such agreements but don't join the union.

"Under right to work, people don't have to pay for any of their representational aspects," said Glenn Brackett, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO.

Sununu said passing such legislation would allow workers to choose whether to belong to a union and would make the state more attractive to businesses looking for places to set up shop.

"I've talked to businesses outside of this state that have clearly brought it up to me, so there's no doubt by passing right to work, it will open up new economic opportunities for the state of New Hampshire," Sununu said.

Carmen Lorentz, who departs this month as director of the state Division of Economic Development, said the issue "does come up every now and then."

But the top issues for businesses, she said, are "workforce, workforce, workforce."

Currently, 26 states have enacted right-to-work laws, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation, Inc. in Springfield, Va.

According to the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, 62,325 New Hampshire residents were union members in 2015, representing 9.7 percent of all working New Hampshire residents - including 20,946, or 3.8 percent, specifically from the private sector.

Right-to-work legislation would affect only people working in New Hampshire, and a union breakdown wasn't available for that.

Dave Juvet, senior vice president for public policy at the Business & Industry Association of New Hampshire, said the BIA favors the measure, which would "uniquely position" the state as the only one in New England to enact such legislation.

"Many companies, especially larger companies and larger manufacturing companies in particular, (are) trying to minimize obstacles to profitability," Juvet said.

He said he hasn't seen evidence that such legislation would suppress wages.

"That's really a function of how healthy the economy is," Juvet said. "I don't personally believe right to work would have an impact on that."

House Speaker Shawn Jasper told reporters last week that right to work has "always been a contentious issue in the House. There are a number of people who feel very strongly about it both ways, so that's one where we'll see where it goes. We know it's a tough issue."

Last year, the House passed it 149-146, but the bill died in the Senate.

Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, predicted opponents "have a good chance to stop it. In the Legislature of 424 people, anything can happen."

Supporters are "going to push for it for sure, and we have to work hard to stop it in the House," he said.

As for whether such a law will help attract new business, D'Allesandro said: "We don't have enough workers, and right to work isn't going to solve that problem."

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, a prime sponsor of a right-to-work bill in the Senate, said the issue "could be high enough on the radar for us to clear it in January."

Reagan said, "The general feeling is there's more resistance in the House."

Brackett said it was too early to assess the chances for passage in 2017, since the AFL-CIO doesn't necessarily know the positions of all the new legislators on the issue.

"We'll be educating our constituents and the elected officials about right to work," Brackett said.

According to the NH AFL-CIO website, "There are different versions of 'right-to-work' legislation, but all 'right-to-work' laws are designed to limit the power of labor unions, and the workers they represent, to negotiate for better pay and working conditions."

But, Sununu said, "I'm not a union buster," adding: "This is not an attempt to destroy unions by any means because I know it won't have that effect."

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