Senate panel backs ‘right-to-work’ bill on party-line vote
CONCORD -- The Republican-controlled Senate Finance Committee backed the latest version of a right-to-work bill for New Hampshire Thursday after hearing familiar arguments on both sides of the always-controversial issue.
The vote was 4-2 recommending that the Senate pass the bill, but organized labor leaders voiced optimism that the 13-member Republican majority in the 24-member Senate won’t unify behind it and the bill will die even before reaching the Democratic-controlled House.
Last year, Republican Sens. David Boutin of Hooksett and Sharon Carson of Hudson opposed right-to-work legislation.
Michigan last month became the twenty-fourth state to enact a right-to-work law.
This year’s New Hampshire bill, like the numerous others that have been debated in the state Legislature during the past two decades, would prohibit collective bargaining agreements that require employees to join unions or pay union dues.
Right-to-work supporters reached what has so far been their high water mark in 2011, when the bill passed the House and Senate. But it was vetoed by Gov. John Lynch and lawmakers sustained it.
Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, sponsoring Senate Bill 217, said he has been a dues-paying union member for more than 50 years, but said workers should have a choice on whether to join unions.
Organized labor leaders say no worker now is required to join any union.
Reagan cited figures compiled by the National Institute for Labor Relations showing that right-to-work states have had faster growth in private-sector employment between 2002 and 2012 and the same per capita compensation as what it calls “forced-unionism states.”
“I don’t think this interferes in any way with the ability of unions to organize,” said Reagan.
“This is not a new bill,” said Greg Moore, state director of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.
“It is not a new concept, nor is it a new strategy.”
Moore said AFP “fundamentally supports” the bill “for the purpose of increasing the competitiveness of the State of New Hampshire.”
He also called it “an important component of worker freedom that allows people to make decision about their own lives.”
Organized labor leaders lined up against it, and Gov. Maggie Hassan expressed her opposition in a strongly-worded letter to the committee.
She wrote that a right-to-work law would “undercut the fundamental right of employees to engage in collective bargaining with their employers and cause unnecessary economic harm to New Hampshire’s hard-working families.”
State AFL-CIO president Mark MacKenzie said right-to-work supporters want to “pound away at the people who go to work every day just trying to support their families.”
He said that in the new global economy, workers need protection of unions more than ever, and said that the state’s economy is “outpacing a lot of other states” on several economic fronts as a non-right-to-work state.
MacKenzie cited a 2011 report by Dr. Gordon Lafer of the Economic Policy Institute, who found that adopting right-to-work lowers wages and benefits by about $1,500 per year for both union and non-union workers and lowers the chances of getting health insurance or a pension though a place of employment.
Lafer’s report showed that the median weekly earnings of full-time New Hampshire workers was $839 in 2009 as compared to an average of $680 in right-to-work states.
The median household income in 2009 was $64,131 in New Hampshire and averaged $46,238 in right-to-work state in the same year, his report showed.
“Other states thought it was a magic bullet, but it never turned out to be that way,” MacKenzie said.
David Lang, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, said the efforts of pro-right-to-work forces have become predictable.
“Every year, we have Christmas, we have daylight savings, we have the Fourth of July and we have a bill that’s not at all going to help the New Hampshire advantage,” he said.
Jay Ward of the State Employees Association said that if New Hampshire had a truth-in-advertising law, the right-to-work bill would be in violation of it.
“It has nothing to do with granting anyone the right to work and nothing to do with protecting those who have a job to be sure they can keep a job,” Ward said.
Scott Mcgilvray, president of NEA-New Hampshire, said the bill’s “fundamental purpose is to “weaken the position of workers” in New Hampshire and throughout the country.
He said right-to-work laws “drive down wages, reduce access to affordable health care and restricts the ability of employees to negotiate contracts that would be to the benefit of both sides.”
But John Kalb of the National Right-to-Work Committee called it “a simple issue. Workers should not be forced to join a union or pay union dues.”
He also called right-to-work an “economic development” initiative and said that 64 companies that recently moved to Indiana cited its right-to-work law as a reason.
William Mackenzie of Goffstown, a member of the National Right-to-Work Committee, told the panel, “There is a benefit to giving people back their universal right to make free choices, and forced unionism is never the correct way to go. It’s a moral issue.”
After the hearing and committee vote, Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen of Concord said, “It’s a shame that some continue to push these right to work for less bills, which are largely driven by national outside interest groups.
“New Hampshire has a lower unemployment rate and a stronger economy than most states with so-called right to work laws,” she said.