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Right-to-work override fails

Veto override 13 short in bipartisan voting

After months of union rallies and attention on moderate Republicans, the New Hampshire House yesterday failed to override the veto of a labor bill that had become a key political issue in the state.

The vote had been anticipated since May, when Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, vetoed the right-to-work legislation and House Speaker Bill O'Brien pledged to make it law anyway. The legislation, which would ban unions from collecting fees from non-members, had passed the Senate with the two-thirds supermajority needed to override a veto, but had fallen more than a dozen votes short in two House votes.

Yesterday, after showings by labor and conservative activists on the State House lawn, as well as the encouragement of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the House voted 240-139 in favor of the override. The result fell 13 votes shy of the two-thirds mark. Cheers erupted from the House gallery, where red-shirted opponents of right-to-work sat near green-shirted supporters.

The House came to attention in the late morning, when O'Brien announced they would take up the veto override. A number of members argued for and against the policy. Rep. Kenneth Weyler, a Kingston Republican who chairs the Finance Committee, said he had benefited from belonging to a union as an airline pilot, but he argued workers should have a choice whether to pay union fees that he said go in part to the national headquarters.

"Union members, do you want to be cash cows, or do you want the union to listen to you and be accountable to you?" Weyler said. "That's all we're asking."

Rep. Lee Quandt, an Exeter Republican who opposes right-to-work, spoke in favor of public workers, saying they are not enemies. He looked to the gallery to thank the union members for their work.

"We think there are no Republicans in unions," he said. "I worked for eight years, eight years to get the public sector employees to realize they can support Republican politicians."

The timing of the vote had been a matter of speculation since late May, when O'Brien had initially said he would call for the override. That day passed without the vote, prompting complaints from Democrats and union leaders. Since then, Republican lawmakers and aides to O'Brien have said he would call the vote at his discretion. Yesterday, Shannon Shutts, a spokeswoman for O'Brien, said the speaker chose to call the vote because there were few House meetings left before the new session officially starts in January.

"This was one of two scheduled sessions before the next session began," she said.

After the vote, O'Brien canceled the session scheduled for Dec. 14. The House will address four remaining vetoes in January before the 2011 session officially adjourns, Shutts said.

Like O'Brien, House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt said passing right-to-work will be a priority for the Republican leadership next year. Asked if he had anticipated the outcome, Bettencourt said: "We knew it was going to be very, very close."

"There are still a lot of members who to the very end were uncommitted," he said. "We're going to continue the dialogue."

O'Brien and the Republican leadership have argued that adopting right-to-work would attract businesses to the state and create jobs. In a statement after the vote, O'Brien accused Lynch of standing in the way of "worker freedom" in New Hampshire.

"As a result of his efforts, employees across the state will still be forced to pay into unions that they may oppose," O'Brien said. "Furthermore, the many companies who have expressed their interest in considering moving new jobs to New Hampshire if we are a right-to-work (state) will not bring relief to the nearly 40,000 unemployed workers across the state."

Asked for the names of businesses which have said they would consider moving to New Hampshire, Shutts pointed to a May press release from the Business and Industry Association listing 11 New Hampshire businesses who support the legislation and claiming that others privately favor the policy.

Lynch praised the outcome, saying the bill would have interfered with the rights of businesses and workers to freely negotiate contracts. Unions and management currently negotiate whether non-members will be required to pay a portion of collective bargaining costs.

"Also, 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 the result of problems facing New Hampshire businesses or workers," he said.

John Kalb, executive director of a group called New England Citizens for Right to Work, said 68,000 workers in New Hampshire are required to pay union dues. He said it was a shame that a large Republican majority could not pass the policy.

Candidates to replace Lynch, who is not running for re-election, chimed in on the debate. Republican candidate Ovide Lamontagne said on Facebook that he strongly supports enacting right-to-work legislation and would promote its passage. Democratic candidate Maggie Hassan thanked lawmakers who opposed the bill and pledged to fight for the right of workers to collectively bargain.

Twenty-two states, none in the Northeast, have right-to-work policies.

(Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com.)