Article published Feb 1, 2013
Right to work losing steam at Statehouse
CONCORD — What a difference a couple of years — and an election — makes.
Right-to-work supporters, including former House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, may be as eager as ever, but fewer than 100 people attended a Legislative hearing on the bill Wednesday. It was a stark contrast to the contentious hearings held by the Republican-controlled House in 2011.
A much smaller crowd than in the recent past turned out for a public hearing on whether to make New Hampshire the 24th state to deny a labor union’s right to negotiate mandatory union dues or fees to cover the cost of collective bargaining. A 2011 hearing on the same issue consumed an entire day and filled up most of the Representative Hall’s 400 seats.
Wednesday’s edition attracted fewer than 100 and was over and done in less than three hours.
But O’Brien noted that the nation’s highest court could be moving in this direction with a its 5-4 ruling last year. The court, he said, concluded employees who don’t want to belong to a union should be asked whether they wish to “opt in’’ to pay these so-called fair share fees.
“Just as there is a right to associate, there is also a right not to associate,” O’Brien said.
He is prime author of the measure (HB 323) that would apply to all employers both in government and the private sector.
Mark MacKenzie, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO labor union, cited the 2012 study of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute that concluded a right-to-work law would cause wages to decline by an average $1,500 a year.
“It is beyond any doubt that based on the economic data alone, this bill is bad policy for our state,” MacKenzie said.
When O’Brien became speaker, it became a touchstone issue of his activist conservative agenda.
In 2011, he delayed a final vote on the 2011 bill for several months hoping to engineer the two-thirds majority he needed to override then-Gov. John Lynch’s veto.
He fell short by 12 votes.
With Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives — with plenty of political support from labor unions — right to work is not likely to get a majority vote in the House.
Several sponsors of the bill said making New Hampshire the only state in the Northeast with right to work would be a significant calling card to lure companies.
“Right to work would help differentiate the state of New Hampshire so that firms would want to relocate here,” said Rep. John Cebrowski, R-Bedford.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, said union leaders should not be threatened by right to work if they are responsive to employees.
“This isn’t about unions. If you are taking care of your workers, then a union has nothing to worry about it,” Baldasaro said.
Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley said supporters have been unable to pass this law over the past two decades, when the GOP had a 3-1 majority in the Legislature after elections in 2002 and 2010.
“The reality is, there has always been a consensus in state government that they should not interfere in the rights of management and labor to collectively bargain,” Buckley declared. “There is absolutely no evidence this legislation will give any benefit to New Hampshire companies, its workers and its families.”
Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or email@example.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).