NH Senate says no to union costs for non-members

By Kathy McCormack
Associated Press / April 20, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H.—The New Hampshire Senate on Wednesday voted to end the practice of requiring non-union members to pay a share of collective bargaining costs, a bill Gov. John Lynch has said he plans to veto.

The so-called Right to Work legislation already passed the House, but a Senate committee amended that version. The bill approved by the Senate 16-8 strips out a provision added by the House that removed the obligation of public sector unions to bargain on behalf of nonunion members.

The bill now goes back to the House, which could agree with the Senate's changes or send the bill to a conference committee. Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers and could override a veto from Lynch, a Democrat who believes the bill would undercut the collective bargaining process in the state.

"The war on the worker continues," said Mark McKenzie, president of the AFL-CIO in New Hampshire. "We will not go away. We will not stop fighting." Crowds of workers lined the halls leading to the Senate before the vote with buttons, stickers sand signs calling to reject the bill. Labor unions feel the bill will result in lower wages and higher unemployment for workers.

David Lang of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire called the vote unfortunate and misguided.

"When we come to a bad situation like this, we assess, we make decisions, we re-evaluate," he said. "We're going to assure you that when it comes to the protection of Main Street -- that's what firefighters are charged with -- and the middle class lives on Main Street, we're going to be there for them."

The bill would bar employers and unions from agreeing to include a fair share clause in contracts. Fair share payments are made instead of union dues to help cover the costs of negotiations and administering contracts. Federal law requires unions to negotiate benefits for all workers, union and nonunion alike.

"To me this is a matter of personal freedom," said Sen. James Forysthe, R-Strafford. "No, you can't be forced to join a union, that is true, but if you're forced to be reprimanded by the union and forced to make contributions, I would ask, `What's the difference?'"

Democrats spoke in opposition to the bill, saying any idea that such laws have helped businesses is not true.

Sen. Matthew Houde, D-Plainfield, said states that have adopted a Right to Work law -- New Hampshire would be the 23rd -- have not seen dramatic job gains. In fact, he said, studies show the majority of workers in Right to Work states have lower salaries and benefits than states that don't have the law.

Many states that adopted the law have a much higher unemployment rate than New Hampshire, which has the fourth lowest in the nation at 5.2 percent and has more people employed than a year ago, Houde said.

As for having the freedom of making a choice, Houde said it's all in the eye of the beholder.

"We have to make contributions to organizations we're members of frequently. ... We all pay taxes for a multitude of things, not all of which we support," he said.

Republicans pointed out that although 11 percent of New Hampshire workers are unionized, most of that union employment is in the public sector.

"To inject economics into it is a bit disingenuous," said Sen. Ray White, R-Bedford.

Sen. Lou D'Allesandro said the bill was an affront to an already shrinking middle class. "It represents a race to the economic bottom for both New Hampshire workers and New Hampshire employers," he said.

He noted that State Labor Commissioner George Copadis has testified against the bill, saying that the Right to Work issue is not among the chief concerns of businesses and workers.

"We have 19,000 teachers. We work hard every single day," Rhonda Wesolowski, president of the National Education Association in New Hampshire, said after the vote. "We represent everyone who joins our union fairly; we always have."