New Hampshire Senate passes right to work bill, advancing Republican priority 

Monitor staff
Published: 2/11/2021 5:03:51 PM

The New Hampshire Senate passed a “right to work” bill Thursday, advancing a longstanding Republican effort to make union membership dues optional for private sector employees.

Senate Bill 61, which passed 13-11, would prohibit collective bargaining agreements between unions and employers that require employees to contribute union dues. Instead, unions could only collect contributions from those who volunteered to join them.

Unions and Democrats have long argued that the mandatory fees are fair because they cover the efforts made by the unions to negotiate fair contracts for all employees, as well as representation in worker disputes. But supporters of right-to-work say that they’re an unwarranted burden on workers who don’t wish to participate, and say that unions should work to convince employees that their services are necessary.

SB 61 is the latest effort in New Hampshire to join 28 other states in adopting the legislation. An effort early in Gov. Chris Sununu’s first term in 2017 fell flat after disagreement in the House.

On Thursday, nearly all Republican senators joined in approval of the bill but one: Sen. Sharon Carson, of Londonderry, who sided with Democrats in opposing the bill’s passage.

The bill would create a new chapter of New Hampshire law dedicated to cementing “freedom of choice” – allowing workers at private companies the right to choose to join unions or choose not to join and not to contribute to them.

Supporters have said that making New Hampshire a right-to-work state would encourage more out-of-state businesses to invest in the state, and boost workers.

In a statement after its passage, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, praised the bill as “pro-jobs and pro-workers.” The bill would create faster wage growth, he argued, and spur the state’s economy.

“Becoming a right-to-work state will also make New Hampshire a more attractive destination for businesses looking to relocate,” Bradley said. “I believe right-to-work, along with lower business taxes and workers compensation costs, will make New Hampshire more competitive and attractive to grow and locate a business.”

But Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, a Manchester Democrat and a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 2320, argued the bill had one intention: to weaken unions and make negotiating worker benefits harder.

“Passage of this bill will not only cripple collective bargaining, it will silence and disempower people in the workplace,” Cavanaugh said in a statement. “...’Right to Work’ has always been wrong for New Hampshire, and today’s vote speaks volumes to the majority’s indifference to the rights and protections of our workforce.”

The bill moves next to the New Hampshire House.

Independent redistricting commission axed

The Senate on Thursday struck down the latest Democratic bill to create an independent committee to help redraw the state district lines after the U.S. Census numbers.

Senate Bill 80 would have created a 15-member advisory committee designed to be bipartisan, with five members chosen by Democrats, five by Republicans, and five more chosen by the initial 10. The committee would have helped draw a plan for districts for the New Hampshire state House, Senate, Executive Council and the U.S. House, which the Legislature could choose to accept or ignore.

But Republicans argued Thursday that the process should be left to the Legislature, which under the New Hampshire Constitution is empowered and responsible for drawing the lines. In November, the House and Senate was flipped from Democratic to Republican control; Democrats say that without an independent, bipartisan effort, the districts could be drawn in a manner that benefits Republicans.

The independent redistricting proposal was not always a wholly partisan issue. In 2019, House Bill 706 was passed on a voice vote in the Senate, garnering the support of Republican Sens. James Gray and Regina Birdsell. The bill also passed 20-0 in the House Election Law Committee.

But over the years, after Sununu vetoed that bill in 2019 and another in 2020, fewer and fewer Republican senators have joined the effort.

The last effort to do so, House Bill 1665 in 2020, garnered 15 votes in the then-Democratically controlled Senate, with Bradley joining 14 Democrats in supporting it.

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