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NH House kills so-called right-to-work bill

By Norma Love
Associated Press / November 30, 2011
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CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire's union workers cheered Wednesday after the House decided to support Gov. John Lynch's veto of legislation that would have limited their ability to collect dues, ending months of maneuvering by Republican Speaker William O'Brien to revive the measure.

The House voted 240-139 Wednesday to sustain the Democratic governor's veto of a bill that barred unions from collecting a share of costs from non-members, killing the bill. Currently, unions and businesses must negotiate whether to require the fees as part of a collective bargaining agreement.

Cheers erupted from the gallery from union workers who attended session after session to urge the bill's defeat since Lynch vetoed the so-called right-to-work bill in May.

Both sides had rallied before the vote, with supporters wearing lime green T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Yes!!!" and opponents wearing red T-shirts with "RTW" and a line through it to represent their opposition to right-to-work laws.

O'Brien had been working to get enough votes to override the veto but fell 12 votes short of the two-thirds needed to send the bill to the Senate, where it was expected to pass. Each side accused the other of using bullying and intimidation tactics.

Opponents criticized it as an attack on unions and their efforts to protect the middle class through fair wages and benefits.

Lynch said repeatedly that the bill interfered with private businesses and their employees' negotiations over contracts.

"Union members aren't thugs. They're police officers. They're firefighters," said Democratic Rep. Jeff Goley, a firefighter from Manchester. "What will right-to-work do here in New Hampshire? Right-to-work will lower wages and lower benefits, not create jobs."

Supporters argued passing the bill would simply make labor unions more accountable to workers since workers no longer could be forced to pay dues or a fee to keep their jobs. O'Brien had argued it would make New Hampshire more attractive to companies wishing to move or expand in the state.

Speakers on both sides of the debate estimated that 9 percent of New Hampshire workers belong to unions. John Kolb, executive director of New England Citizens for Right to Work, estimated 68,000 New Hampshire workers are in unions. In October, 704,770 residents were employed, according to the state.

"Let those who wish to associate with unions to freely do so, but let's also show compassion for those who choose not to associate with unions. Let them be free to choose an alternative action without being required to pay to keep their jobs," said state Rep. Gary Daniels, R-Milford.

The two sides had struggled to keep a handful of key votes in line since Lynch vetoed the bill.

O'Brien first called for a vote soon after the veto, then backed off when it was clear he did not have the two-thirds needed to override it.

O'Brien's refusal to call for a vote despite requests from opponents forced union groups to return session after session to shore up support for killing the bill. Union leaders complained that O'Brien was not being fair to the public or them by not scheduling a vote and sticking to it. O'Brien said he would call for the vote when he was ready.

Some Republican presidential candidates weighed in, facing questions from voters on their positions. Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for the bill's passage Wednesday during remarks to the House before the vote.

After the vote, O'Brien blamed Lynch for blocking "efforts to bring worker freedom to New Hampshire."

"As a result of his efforts, employees across the state will still be forced to pay into unions that they may oppose," he said in a statement.

Lynch said in a statement that he was pleased with the vote.

"The debate over the so-called right-to-work bill in New Hampshire appears to have been largely driven by national outside interest groups, and was not a result of problems facing New Hampshire businesses or workers," he said.

Kolb said it was a shame, especially with an overwhelming Republican majority in the House, that lawmakers "choose to put the interest of the Big Labor bosses" over New Hampshire citizens opposed to being required to pay fees or dues.

O'Brien had until Jan. 4 to call for a vote.

Twenty-two states have a similar law.

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