Labor Defeats Right-to-Work in New Hampshire 12/01/2011

CONCORD, NH - The New Hampshire organized labor community chalked up a major victory yesterday when state Democratic and Republican lawmakers joined forces to kill Right-to-Work legislation in the Granite State.

With just a little over a month remaining in the legislative session, the bi-partisan group of 139 legislators voted to sustain a veto of the bill by Democratic Governor John Lynch.  Their votes were enough to prevent House Speaker William O’Brien and 239 other Republican legislators from securing the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto and make New Hampshire the first state in ten years to adopt the union-busting legislation.  

A direct result of a well-coordinated and aggressive education campaign by the NH AFL-CIO, AFSCME and dozens of other unions and organizations, the victory ended a six month ordeal that began last spring.  The first scheduled override vote was planned for May 25, but Speaker O’Brien abruptly backed off when he realized a comprehensive union education campaign had significantly diminished support for the measure within his own party.

O’Brien continued to duck the vote in a number of subsequent sessions stating only that he would call the vote when the “time was right.”  His vague comment left unions and other Right-to-Work opponents concerned that the “right time” would be when the "right wing" had a majority in the chamber.  As a result, AFSCME and other labor unions kept a constant vigil at legislative sessions and continued to educate members and the public on the real mission of Right-to-Work proponents, which is to break organized labor.  

AFSCME Local 3657 Vice-President Bobby Jones was one of the many AFSCME members who kept watch at the State House, spending countless hours in Concord.  An elated Jones celebrated the end of battle as did the more than 400 public safety workers in his local.  “Thankfully, our members will be able to return to their lives and not worry about the sneaky tactics of Speaker O’Brien,” Jones said.  “This is a great victory for New Hampshire’s middle-class.  The repeated attempts by Republican leaders and outside conservative groups have once again been beaten back by the proud Granite State residents who saw the truth for what it is.” 

O’Brien’s tactics included a last-ditch effort to swing some Republican votes his way by inviting Republican Texas Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry into the chamber yesterday for a shameless plug for the legislation.  Perry’s plea was met with a chorus of boos from union members seated in the balcony, leading O’Brien to threaten to “clear the gallery.”   Of course, O’Brien had no problem when his supporters in the gallery made noise, many of whom were reportedly bussed in from other states.

Council 93 Executive Director Anthony Caso lauded extraordinary work of the coordinated labor campaign, which faced an uphill battle from day one. “Given the deceptive and well-financed message of Right-to-Work supporters, AFSCME members and the entire labor community did a phenomenal job,” Caso said.  “But of course we had the truth on our side and ultimately that was the difference maker in this fight.”   

“I think we proved that solidarity is more than just a word,” said AFSCME New Hampshire Coordinator Harriett Spencer.  “All the unions worked together with Democratic and Republican legislators.  As a result, we ended up with a result that reflected what the people of New Hampshire really wanted.”

Right-to-Work supporters gain a foothold in states by falsely claiming the legislation will help create new jobs and entice businesses to move to states that adopt the law. However, a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that manufacturing jobs in Oklahoma (the last state to adopt the law) steadily declined in the decade following passage of the law and (compared to six surrounding states) had no impact on job growth or the unemployment rate.  The EPI study, entitled Right-to-Work Wrong for New Hampshire,  also found that the number of out-of-state businesses operating plants in Oklahoma decreased after passage of the law while 100 facilities closed and an additional 160 businesses announced mass layoffs. Moreover, according to the AFL-CIO, the average worker in a Right-to-Work state makes $5,333 less per year than workers in other states.  

When their false job creation rhetoric fails, supporters of Right-to-Work turn to the deceptive claim that the legislation is needed to prevent workers from being forced to join a union against their will.  They try to mislead lawmakers by stating that workers are being forced to pay union dues which in turn are being used to support union activities that run counter to their religious and political beliefs.  But the truth is workers are already protected from such outrageous mandates.  Under current law, workers are not and cannot be forced to join a union. But, current law does allow these workers to be charged a modest “fair share” fee by a union because they fully benefit from the wage increases and improved benefits and working conditions secured through union negotiations.  However, if the worker believes this fee is being used to support activity that runs counter to their religious or political beliefs, they can have that fee donated to a legitimate charity of their choosing.

In exchange for paying this fee – even if they decide to have it donated to a charity – these workers receive the same pay raises, benefits and improved working conditions enjoyed by their full dues paying union member colleagues. Moreover, should they find that they have been wrongfully disciplined, fired or denied a promotion to a better job; they have access to the same union legal representation as full dues paying members.  In fact, these workers can even sue the union if they believe they were inadequately represented in such instances.  If that seems a bit unfair to workers who pay full union dues, it’s because it probably is.  However, it is a system unions are willing to accept knowing that these fees, while drastically lower than full union dues, help provide us with the resources we need to do the important work we do for every worker.

The real agenda of Right-to-Work supporters is to strip labor organizations of these "fair share" fees while simultaneously forcing unions to expend substantial resources fighting the initiatives, thereby weakening labor's ability to organize and adequately represent members.

Council 93 encourages all AFSCME members to arm themselves with the facts about Right-to-Work and join the efforts to stop it by educating family members, friends and elected officials. 

Click here to see Concord Patch video coverage of reaction in the House gallery.