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Attack on unions should be repelled

Last modified: 1/19/2012 12:00:00 AM
A nationwide attack on organized labor, public employees in particular, continues today at the State House, where hearings will be held on a spate of bills designed to reduce or eliminate worker rights and benefits.

Gov. John Lynch should keep his veto pen handy. Many of the bills come right out of the playbook of the American Leadership Exchange Council, a nationwide anti-labor group funded in part by corporations like Walmart. Most are unnecessary, unfair and designed to roll back gains that ultimately benefit all workers, unionized or not.

Back are more attempts to make New Hampshire a so-called right-to-work state in which it's illegal for a union and an employer to agree to charge non-union members a "fair share" fee to cover the cost of negotiating the contracts they benefit from.

The campaign is part of an attempt to weaken organized labor. Last year, when the bill came up only to be vetoed by Gov. John Lynch, no employer testified in favor of it. And the state commissioner of resources and economic development, the person charged with luring businesses to New Hampshire, has said that the state's lack of a right-to-work law plays no role in corporate decision-making.

The assault on public employees continues with House Bill 1645 which would prohibit all public employees from engaging in collective bargaining. The right of employees to band together to seek better pay and working conditions has become a fundamental one. It has led to the 40-hour work week, worker safety laws, retirement programs and health benefits. Should this anti-labor Legislature pass the bill, Lynch should veto it.

The right-to-work bill and collective bargaining ban bracket a number of other anti-labor bills that deserve strict scrutiny if not quick defeat. House Bill 1206 would prohibit the state from deducting union dues - but not, for example, United Way contributions - from employee paychecks. That bill should fail on the grounds of pettiness. Ditto for an even more punitive bill sponsored by Dunbarton Republican Rep. J.R. Hoell. It would eliminate the requirement that employers grant workers who have put in at least five consecutive hours on the job a half-hour lunch break unless it's feasible for the employee to eat on the job.

Yet another bill, sponsored by Manchester Republican Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, would prohibit public employees from running for the House or Senate. The House should reject that bill too, one we presume was designed to reduce opposition to measures that negatively affect public workers.

House Bill 1426, sponsored by Weare Republican Rep. Neal Kurk, seeks to change the way negotiations over health-care benefits are conducted by municipalities and their employees. The bill would allow cities or towns to notify bargaining units that they want to reduce health care costs and begin negotiations. If no agreement were reached within 45 days, unresolved issues would be settled by binding arbitration. The arbitrator's decision would be final unless overruled by a two-thirds vote of the town's governing body.

Kurk's bill does call for at least one quarter of any savings achieved, presumably by reducing benefits, to be shared between municipal workers and the town's general fund. But by setting up a separate negotiating process for health care benefits, it would complicate matters. Municipalities would have to negotiate two contracts instead of one, and what one side gained or lost, say, in the health care arena, would affect negotiations over salary and other benefits.

Kurk's bill is the wrong answer to rising health care costs. And beating upon organized labor is not the way to get the economy moving.


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