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CONCORD— For the third time in three years, right-to-work legislation was defeated, this time when the House voted 212-141 Wednesday, killing the bill.
After two years of heated and bitter battles when former House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, made right-to-work one of his priorities, lawmakers this year spent about 45 minutes debating House Bill 323, which would prohibit employers and labor organizations from including fees for non-union members in collective bargaining agreements. Body
Several members wondered why lawmakers were debating the issue again.
"Right-to-work is like a bad meal that keeps coming back," said Rep. Douglas Ley, R-Jaffrey. "Let's take care of it and get rid of it now."
Supporters of HB 323 claimed right-to-work will help spur the state's economy and set the state apart in the Northeast. And they claimed it was a matter of freedom, saying workers should not have to pay to retain their jobs.
"It is wrong to force (people) to pay a private organization — like a union — every day for the opportunity to go to work trying to take care of their families and stay ahead," O'Brien said. "It's outrageous someone has to pay a private politically charged organization to keep their public employment."
Opponents said HB 322 is an attack on organized labor that will drive down wages and destroy middle class families in a race to the bottom.
"New Hampshire is not broken economically and doing better than most states," said Rep. Timothy Copeland, R-Stratham. "Why would we adopt a right-to-work law we do not need?" Eighteen Republicans joined 204 Democrats to defeat the bill, while only one Democrat joined 140 Republicans in supporting the bill.
Wednesday's vote brought cheers from union members packing Representatives Hall' gallery and praise from union officials.
"At a time when so-called right-to-work bills are being pushed in state legislatures across our nation, this vote is a strong reminder that right-to-work is part of a national rightwing agenda and is not right for New Hampshire," said NH AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie. "Our elected representatives made it clear that they have no appetite for bills that will lower wages and erode the middle class."
But O'Brien argued the state risks becoming a political and economic backwater unless its joins the ranks of right-to-work states and begins attracting businesses and the jobs to keep young people here.
Other supporters argued right-to-work will help expand state business tax revenue because more manufacturing companies will move to New Hampshire and set up shop.
"Right-to-work is the tide that is going to raise all our ships," said Rep. Pam Tucker, R-Stratham. "Right-to-work benefits citizens at all economic levels and it helps the state in two ways: higher employment and lower welfare roles."
Other supporters argued it really is a matter of personal freedom. Rep. Al Baldasaro, D-Londonderry, said if unions do their jobs they will have the membership they want.
"We are the live-free-or-die state," he said. "Who are we telling people they have to pay a tax, a negotiation fee to be working in a job."
But opponents said studies indicate wages and benefits go down for all workers in right-to-work states, and the promised companies and jobs do no materialize.
Rep. Christopher Andrews, D- Bow, cited a letter he received urging him to support HB 323 from a business recruiter who said elsewhere he looks for states with the lowest wages and business regulations.
"Don't we deserve better than this," Andrews said. "We want businesses that come into New Hampshire to invest in our workers, to invest in our state and more importantly to invest in our future."
The bill would have barred unions from collecting fees from non-members for the cost of negotiating and maintaining collective bargaining agreements.
A similar bill was vetoed by former Gov. John Lynch in 2011 and the House failed to override the veto. In 2012, the bill died when the Senate refused to engage in the debate, again saying the outcome would be the same as a year ago.