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January 29. 2014 6:23PM

Bills taking aim at cost of doing business come under fire in Concord

CONCORD — Legislation that would increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 and tie future increases to the cost of living index is one of seven bills on a hit list presented Tuesday by business leaders representing virtually every sector of the state’s economy.

Jim Roche, president of the N.H. Business and Industry Association, was surrounded by representatives of the insurance industry, automobile dealers, bankers, grocers, technology firms, home builders, the hospitality industry and the medical society as he outlined what he called “bad business bills” going before the Legislature this session.

In addition to the minimum wage bill (HB1403), the group targeted HB439, which increases worker compensation costs.

The other five bills affect laws that govern hiring, the workplace environment and employer liability.

HB350 prohibits discrimination against the unemployed. “It invites lawsuits against employers by unemployed individuals if the employer chooses not to hire them,” according to Roche.

HB591 prohibits “abusive work environments” for public employees, including any branch, department, commission, bureau, agency, or agent of the state of New Hampshire, and defines abusive as “criticizing an employee,” “micro-managing an employee’s work,” and “creating unrealistic workloads or deadlines,” Roche said.

SB302, labeled “An act relative to public or private criticism of employers by employees,” would allow employees to sue for wrongful termination if they are fired for publicly or privately criticizing employers through social media.

HB1368 prohibits an employer from asking a prospective employee if they have a criminal background.

SB297 changes the state’s liability statutes and increases employers’ risk of litigation, according to the BIA.

“We’re here to express our collective concern to the entire Legislature about bills pending in both chambers, sponsored by Democrats and Republicans, that would move New Hampshire’s economy and climate for business and job creation backwards,” Roche said at the news conference in the Legislative Office Building.

Bob Nash, president of the N.H. Association of Insurance Agents, spoke briefly about the challenges facing New Hampshire businesses, even as Politico recently named the state number one in the nation based on a number of measures.

“New Hampshire just got voted best place to be, but if that was based on the business community, it was a false vote,” he said, citing uncertainty about health care, the high costs of energy, a failing infrastructure and weak capital investment.

Mark S. MacKenzie, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, agreed with the BIA on the bill to change the rules surrounding worker compensation.

He said the current rules and rates represent a compromise reached over the years between management and labor in the state that should be left alone for now.

“We would be concerned about opening the gates for workers comp reform that would not be in the best interests of the workers,” he said.

Regarding HB350, McKenzie said long-term unemployment, in itself, should not be a negative factor in the job application process. “We want to make sure that long-term unemployed workers are not being discriminated against simply because they have been unable to find a job,” he said. “There is growing evidence that long-term unemployed are having more difficulty finding jobs, despite their qualifications, and that should not be a barrier.”

McKenzie said the push-back on the minimum wage is no surprise.

“This is not just about teenagers coming into the labor market,” he said. “It’s about a disproportionate number of women — women with families — trying to make ends meet on a wage that is far below what it should be. We have a responsibility to try to increase the minimum wage and bring some fairness to what’s going on in the workplace today.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com



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