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'Right-to-work' headed to Senate vote

Last modified: 4/13/2011 12:00:00 AM
A Senate committee yesterday recommended changing the law to prevent unions from charging nonmembers for a share of collective bargaining costs.

The four Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee voted to endorse the "right-to-work" legislation over the opposition of the committee's lone Democrat. The Republican senators said the bill would give workers greater freedom to decide whether to support union efforts. Committee Vice Chairman Ray White, a Bedford Republican, described the issue as "the freedom of choice versus compulsion." He said unions will continue to bring in membership dues so long as they make a compelling case for their services.

The House passed right-to-work legislation in February. Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, has said he would veto it. House lawmakers voted 221-131 for the bill, so supporters would have to pick up votes to overturn a veto. Diana Lacey, president of the State Employees' Association, said she was disappointed in the committee vote but did not believe the measure would pass the full Senate.

Sen. Matthew Houde, the lone Democrat on the committee, said yesterday that reducing the amount of money unions could gather in fees would limit the number of programs they could advocate for. Houde, of Plainfield, also said right-to-work laws have resulted in lower wages and benefits in other states.

The committee recommended removing a clause from the House bill that would have limited collective bargaining agreements to union members. Committee Chairman Russell Prescott, a Kingston Republican, said the clause raised questions about allowing additional parties at the bargaining table.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Republican from Henniker, voted to remove the clause but said he appreciated the idea of not requiring unions to bargain for people who do not pay.

"How do we force a union to represent people when they're not being compensated for it? I think that's wrong," Sanborn said.

After the vote, Felicia Augevich, a FairPoint employee who belongs to the Communications Workers of America, said the bill would prevent businesses and unions from agreeing to require nonmembers to pay fees for unions' collective bargaining services.

"The people that choose not to be members, that's okay," Augevich said. "They still get those benefits. But we need to recoup those costs."

Supporters in the House have said right-to-work would improve the state's business climate. The Senate committee members stuck to the case for employee freedom. When Houde referenced - and rejected - the argument that a right-to-work law would draw businesses to the state, White said he, too, was unconvinced.

Labor Commissioner George Copadis told a House committee in February that in six years no company has asked him about right-to-work.

Lacey said employers agree to require nonunion members to pay union fees when it makes business sense. Employers reduce their administrative overhead when they do not have to spend time negotiating separate contracts for each employee, she said.

The right-to-work bill is only one measure at the State House this year that would limit the power of unions. Lawmakers have already passed a bill repealing the "evergreen clause," which required scheduled pay increases to continue after a contract expired. The repeal took effect without Lynch's signature. The state budget proposed by the House contains a measure that would let public employers unilaterally change wages, benefits and terms of employment of workers after a contract expires.

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


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