House defeats right-to-work legislation

By: and - June 3, 2021 5:47 pm
State House viewed through stone arch

Three animal protection bills were signed into law on Wednesday. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The House defeated a right-to-work bill Thursday, 175-199, disappointing supporters who thought a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on mandatory union dues would persuade long-standing opponents to back it.

House members then defeated a motion to table the bill, which would have meant it could have been subsequently reintroduced. A motion to postpone the bill indefinitely passed, 196-178, which means the bill – or something similar to it – can’t be reintroduced until 2023.

Rep. Donald Bouchard, a Manchester Democrat, said the bill, if passed, would be unfair to paying union members by giving those who didn’t pay a free ride. He said this would ultimately weaken unions.

“Right-to-work would hinder workers who want to come together in unions from getting enough power to negotiate on an even footing with employers, for better wages, benefits, and working conditions,” he said.

This was at least the 30th attempt to pass a right-to-work bill in New Hampshire in the last 40 years. One attempt made it through the Legislature in 2011, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch.

Had Senate Bill 61 passed, private-sector unions would have been prohibited from requiring all employees to pay dues, including those who aren’t union members. The U.S. Supreme Court stopped that practice among public-sector unions three years ago in a 5-4 ruling that said requiring non-union members to pay dues is a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech. That court decision essentially instituted right-to-work rules on public employee unions, including the State Employees Association, one of the state’s largest unions. 

Rep. Tim Baxter, a Seabrook Republican, spoke in support of the proposal. “This will help grow our small businesses in New Hampshire and attract more young people to move to our state,” he said.

Gov. Chris Sununu made right-to-work a key platform of all three of his campaigns and reportedly pressed Republicans behind closed doors in 2017 after 32 party members joined Democrats in defeating the bill. 

The party breakdown of Thursday’s vote was not immediately available. 

Republicans, who tend to favor right-to-work more than Democrats, hold just a 26-seat majority this session, about half of what they held in 2017. The bill’s opponents predicted that would almost certainly be too small a margin to pass the bill. 

Although the State Employees Association would not be affected by Senate Bill 61, SEA President Richard Gulla was happy to see it fail. He called the vote “a great win for New Hampshire citizens and families.”

“This is a bipartisan win,” Gulla said. “Republicans and Democrats joined together to defeat the so-called right-to-work-for-less bill.”

The bill’s supporters included the Business and Industry Association and the New Hampshire chapter of Americans for Prosperity, both of which lobbied lawmakers to pass the bill. Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity, had hoped the court order, which came down a year after the 2017 defeat of right-to-work legislation, would persuade Republicans who voted against the bill last time, in part to protect the state’s public-sector employees, to change course. 

“The House missed a great opportunity to strengthen our New Hampshire Advantage and increase our state’s economic competitiveness,” Moore said in a written statement issued after the House vote. 

“We are disappointed that lawmakers voted to continue the status quo that forces workers to decide whether to support their families and keep more of what they earn or risk losing their job,” he said. “This fight isn’t over.”

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.

Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]