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House kills right-to-work bill, bars reconsideration this session

  • Workers International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 3 protest outside the State House in advance of voting on right-to-work legislation in Concord on Thursday. House lawmakers killed the union-targeting legislation after a Republican-on-Republican debate. AP

Monitor staff
Published: 2/16/2017 10:50:15 PM

New Hampshire will not become a so-called right-to-work state this year, or next.

Despite last-minute lobbying efforts and pleas by Republican leaders, the GOP-led House killed the union-targeting bill by an unexpectedly wide margin of 200-177.

The chamber then went a step further – voting to effectively ban consideration of right-to-work for the next two years.

“I’m on top of the world,” said Democratic Rep. Henry Parkhurst, who left the chamber and let out a loud howl in front of dozens of union members who crowded outside.

The bill’s defeat puts an end to weeks of high-charged debate that even drew attention from the White House. The outcome is a loss for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who made right-to-work a priority and lobbied members of his party to pass it.

More than 30 of the 223 House Republicans joined with Democrats to kill the bill, arguing it was pushed by out-of-state groups and would weaken unions.

“This bill is a direct attack on our livelihood,” said Republican Rep. Sean Morrison, a firefighter from Epping.

The right-to-work bill would have prevented public and private sector unions from charging nonmembers for the cost of representing them, what’s known as a fair share fee. Supporters say it would help attract new business and expand worker freedom. Floor debate was brief, with a few Republicans on each side of the issue taking a turn to speak.

Sununu was “deeply disappointed” by the outcome.

“While it is clear that some House members did not understand this opportunity to unleash the untapped potential of our economy, I know that we can continue to work collaboratively on initiatives that will drive new business into the state,” he said in a statement.

Republican state lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully since the 1980s to pass right-to-work.

With the GOP in control of the House, Senate and governor’s office for the first time in more than a decade, many saw this year as the bill’s best shot at passage. Right-to-work narrowly cleared the state Senate last month.

But Speaker Shawn Jasper warned in past days the bill could fail in the House. In a show of good faith, he turned over the gavel Thursday to vote from the floor. While unhappy with the result, Jasper said he is relieved the fight is over.

“It’s best for the House and for Republicans at this point to put this behind us and move forward,” he said. “There has got to be some healing.”

Right-to-work drew intense pushback from union members, who showed up by the dozens at legislative hearings to oppose it.

Union members make up just under 10 percent of New Hampshire’s workforce, a number that has declined slightly between 2010 and 2015, according to federal labor statistics.

Aaron Sturup, a 26-year-old from Derry and member of a carpenters union, stood outside the State House on Thursday morning in frigid temperatures to protest right-to-work.

“This bill is deceiving in name,” said Sturup, who held coffee with one hand and a sign with the other. “It enables other workers on the job to get our benefits without having to pay for it.”

After the vote, union members who were crowded outside the chamber applauded and cheered. “It’s a good day for New Hampshire,” said Rich Gulla, head of the largest union of state employees, as he shook hands with members.

More than half the states in the country have right-to-work laws on the books, but no states in New England do. New Hampshire’s right-to-work fight earned outside attention.

Vice President Mike Pence had called Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to discuss the legislation, according to one lawmaker who said he was briefed on the conversation.

“Pence was very much behind passage of right-to-work and if we’re, as we are, the first-in-the-nation primary state, we should be first in New England for right-to-work,” said House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, a Merrimack Republican. Sununu said he had spoken to members of the Trump administration about the bill, but didn’t answer a question specifically about any conversation with Pence.

“I have talked to the vice president about lots of different issues,” he said Thursday morning. A spokesperson for the Trump administration didn’t return a request for comment.

Some Republicans warn the vote will become an election issue in 2018. New Hampshire Republican Party chairwoman Jeanie Forrester said Wednesday the party would financially support members who backed right-to-work, which is part of the state GOP platform.

The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity – which has spent thousands of dollars on pro-right-to-work efforts – will likely keep up to the advocacy work.

“We expect that this battle is going to continue,” said the group’s state director Greg Moore. “It will probably be a huge issue going into next year as people start to decide who is running for office.”

Some are skeptical about campaign efforts. Republican Rep. Fred Doucette, a right-to-work opponent from Salem, was the target of AFP mailers on the issue. For the vote, he wore a black tie printed with white skulls and crossbones, in honor of Moore, he said.

“He spent money trying to keep me from getting elected,” Doucette said. “He obviously doesn’t know my constituency, and those are the people who sent me to Concord, not AFP.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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