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Despite GOP Majority, N.H. House Votes Down Right-to-Work Bill

Todd Bookman/NHPR

The New Hampshire House voted Thursday to kill a controversial Right-to-Work bill, as divisions within the Republican party ultimately sank the measure.

Right-to-Work laws prohibits unions from forcing non-union members to pay fees to cover the cost of collective bargaining. It’s come before New Hampshire lawmakers more than 30 times over the past few decades, so the arguments both for and against the policy are old hat at this point.

Rep. Phil Bean, a Republican from Hampton, told House colleagues letting government get in the middle of employer-employee negotiations would lead the state in a dark direction.

“This is frightening language. It’s intrusive. It’s not American. It’s Kremlin-esque. It’s Orwellian, and it shouldn’t pass,” says Bean.

Unions argue that Right-to-Work leads to lower wages and is a thinly veiled attempt to curtail labor’s political power. But for backers of the policy, it comes down to worker freedom.

“How is it possible in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state that we would permit compulsory dues payments to any organization as a condition of employment?” asks Majority Leader Dick Hinch. “If I pay a fee to any organization, it should be my choice.”

Top Republicans including former State Senator and newly elected state party Chairwoman Jeannie Forester hustled this week to remind House members that Right-to-Work is in the New Hampshire GOP platform. Still, 32 Republicans joined every Democrat in voting down the bill, 200-to-177.

Union leaders were quick to applaud that coalition.

“It’s a bipartisan effort here today and I’m proud of the House for doing what they did,” says New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Glenn Brackett.

Despite holding a 50-seat majority, House Speaker Shawn Jasper worked to temper expectations before the vote. Afterwards, he said Right-to-Work shouldn’t define if someone is a "good Republican" or a bad one. But he did acknowledge some hard feelings.

“We have to start moving forward. There’s got to be some healing,” says Jasper. “I know there are some people who are very angry with other members of the Republican Caucus, and that healing has to take place. So, to put it behind us, and move forward is what’s best for the Republican Caucus.”

The loss does come as a political blow to Gov. Chris Sununu. Ever since winning election, he talked up Right-to-Work as an important economic development tool. In a statement, Sununu says he’s "deeply disappointed" in the vote.

“While it is clear that some House members did not understand this opportunity to unleash the untapped potential of our economy, I know that we can continue to work collaboratively on initiatives that will drive new business into the state,” says Sununu.

The newly elected governor says he’ll continue pushing to improve the state’s business climate. While Right-to-Work won’t be a part of that agenda, expect this bill to come up again. If not in the next two years — the House also voted Thursday not to bring the issue back up during this session — then on the campaign trail.

“For those folks who opposed it, ultimately, they’re going to have to answer for why they voted the way they did,” says Greg Moore, executive director of Americans For Prosperity-New Hampshire, an advocacy group that has tried to make Right-to-Work a defining issue for conservatives.

With the bill’s defeat, a group of Republicans are bucking that, much to the delight of unions and Democrats.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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