NH House votes down Right-to-Work bill
CONCORD — The state House of Representatives defeated Senate-sponsored Right-to-Work legislation Thursday, 200-177, as 32 Republicans sided with a united Democratic caucus to vote against the measure.
In a subsequent procedural vote, representatives voted 193-184 to indefinitely postpone further action on the issue, precluding any vote on a House-sponsored Right-to-Work bill in the current session.
A motion to reconsider the postponement vote also failed, 194-183.
The loss came despite a full-court press by Republican Party leaders who enjoy a 50-vote majority in the 400-member chamber.
Gov. Chris Sununu made passage of the bill one of the priorities in his business-friendly policy package, while GOP leaders suggested at a press conference Wednesday that Republican representatives had a duty to support the party platform upon which they were elected.
Sununu said he was “deeply disappointed,” but would move on.
“Right to Work, though important, is just one piece of a broader effort to promote economic development, signaling to our nation’s business community that New Hampshire is open for business,” he said.
Jeanie Forrester, chairman of the Republican State Committee, sounded a similar theme.
“We are disappointed that the House of Representatives failed business owners and working families by voting down Right-to-Work legislation,” she said. “The good news is that Gov. Sununu’s optimistic agenda for economic prosperity is larger than one issue.”
Former Republican state chairman Jennifer Horn blamed House Speaker Shawn Jasper for the bill’s defeat.
“It is the responsibility of our Republican speaker of the House to do everything possible to advance Governor Sununu’s agenda,” Horn posted on Facebook.
“The speaker knowingly and intentionally appointed a labor committee with a majority of anti-RTW representatives.”
On the eve of the vote, in an email to all House Republicans, Jasper said he gave any Republicans who asked for one a seat on the panel but had few takers.
“There has been an on-going attempt by a number of Right-To-Work supporters who, while facing the possibility that SB11 will be defeated in the House on Thursday, are attempting to portray me as the reason for such a defeat, alleging that I had “stacked” the Labor Committee. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Jasper wrote.
Democrats and union officials reveled in the victory.
“Republicans and Democrats in the State House stood together and made clear that this issue is above partisan politics,” said Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley. “Thousands of working families made their voices known throughout this process and our politicians heard them loud and clear.”
Close vote predicted
Supporters and opponents of the bill had predicted a razor-thin vote in the House, after it narrowly passed the Senate in a 12-11 vote and was defeated last week in the Republican-dominated House Labor Committee on a 14-7 vote.
Had the bill become law, New Hampshire would have been the only state in the Northeast with a Right-to-Work law, which prohibits unions from collecting any payments from non-members.
Current law allows unions to require “agency fees” from non-members to cover the cost of collective bargaining and representation in grievance procedures.
Republicans have tried repeatedly to pass a Right-to-Work law in the Granite State for decades, only to have it fail in one chamber or be vetoed by a Democratic governor.
A matter of message
Republican Rep. Sean Morrison of Epping said the fight over Right to Work was more a matter of message than substance, given the low level of union membership in the state.
“I too believe this is about freedom ... freedom of businesses to conduct themselves as they see fit, and freedom from overreach by government in private business matters,” he said.
Morrison summarized the consensus among the committee majority that existing legislation is adequate to protect worker freedoms.
Companies expanding elsewhere are not citing Right to Work, Morrison said, but a range of other issues that he said deserved the Legislature’s attention.
“So let’s lower energy costs, lower business taxes, less red tape and less government interference in employee/employer relationships, as we should in the Live Free or Die state,” he said.
Republican Majority Leader Dick Hinch said the state economy would benefit from Right to Work, even though it already has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.
“We shouldn’t let good be the enemy of better,” he said. “In order to retain workers here, we need to retain jobs here. In order to retain jobs here we need to compete.”
Right to Work would make the state more competitive by sending a signal to out-of-state companies “that we are dedicated to making New Hampshire unique and competitive,” said Hinch.
“If I pay a fee to any organization, it should be my choice, based on my best judgment,” he said. “If I pay a fee to an organization, I should expect them to earn it based on the work that they do.”
A recurring issue
State Rep. Phillip Bean, R-Hampton, said he hopes the Legislature has finally put the Right-to-Work issue to rest.
“A stake should be driven through its heart in this third dozen attempt to have it passed over the will of the people of New Hampshire,” he said.
Greg Moore, state director with Americans For Prosperity, called the vote a setback, and said his organization would hold Republicans who voted against Right-to-Know accountable in the next election cycle.
He also predicted the issue would return in the next legislative session, as it has since the 1980s.