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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    Nashua firefighter Gordon Wilson listens to testimany during a hearing with the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee members Thursday, January 19, 2012, for a bill proposing changes to the way unions for state workers negotiate contracts.


  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    The House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee listens to questions and comments about a bill changing the way contract negotiations would be handled for public employees Thursday, January 19, 2012, at Representatives Hall in Concord.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    Bill sponsor John Gimas of Manchester speaks to the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee Thursday, January 19, 2012, about the process of contract negotiations at Representatives Hall in Concord.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee members listen to testimony Thursday, January 19, 2012, from Rep. John Gimas of Manchester during a session in the Statehouse for a bill proposing changes to the way state workers' unions negotiate contracts.


  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee members listen to testimony from State Rep. John Gimas Thursday, January 19, 2012, during a session in the Statehouse for a bill proposing changes to the way unions for state workers negotiate contracts.


  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    Members of the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee listen to testimony Thursday, January 19, 2012, during a session in the Statehouse for a bill proposing changes to the way unions for state workers negotiate contracts.


  • Jeff Stone, of the Concord Fire Officers, while Harold Schaitberger, the general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, gives a speech during a rally outside the State House on Thursday, January 19, 2012.



    (Andrea Morales/Monitor Staff)
  • Protestors gather outside the State House Thursday, objecting to bills they argue are intended to cripple unions. Staff photo by Jake Berry.
Friday, January 20, 2012

Labor groups protest ‘union-busting’ bills in Concord

CONCORD – Crowded by hundreds of teachers, firefighters and other union members, state Rep. Andrew White tried to quiet the gathering Thursday morning at the New Hampshire Statehouse.

“I’d like to suggest we move to a larger room … where members of the public aren’t right at our backs,” White, D-Lebanon, said as the union members filled the small meeting room on the third floor of the Legislative Office Building.

“We’ll always be on your back,” one union member shouted in response, drawing applause from the growing crowd. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Union members from Nashua to the North Country gathered at the Statehouse on Thursday to weigh in on a series of bills they feared would collectively cripple unions across the state.

The bills, up for consideration in the House labor committee, range from a plan to eliminate automatic deductions from paychecks for union dues to one proposing to allow nonunion workers to opt out of union representation.

Another bill, proposing to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees, likely will be amended in coming weeks before it goes to a full House vote, according to its lead sponsor.

Members of the House labor committee took public comment on the bills Thursday. They’ll likely debate the proposals over the coming weeks, issuing a recommendation before sending them forward to the full House sometime next month.

Speaking Thursday, sponsors of the bills defended the proposals, saying they would save taxpayers money by allowing employers to bypass unions and negotiate directly with workers.

“The state should not be involved in dealing with withholding anything. That’s up to individual employers and banks,” state Rep. Susan DeLemus, R-Rochester, who sponsored the direct deposit proposal.

Opponents, who wore union shirts and stickers as signs of solidarity, maintained that the proposals would only erase bargaining rights for which lawmakers have fought for decades.

“This is brutal. It’s a never-ending attack. We just want what was promised to us,” Erich Weeks, a Hudson firefighter and president of the Hudson union, said Thursday. He joined hundreds of workers from around the state rallying outside the Statehouse.

“This is singling out unions as part of what is a concerted attack on unionism, collective bargaining and the idea of people working together to better their lives,” added Ted O’Brien, a retired television newsman and member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists who testified before the labor committee. “This is ridiculous.”

Thursday’s labor fight is the continuation of a battle that has raged in Virginia, Wisconsin and other states that have voted to limit or erase collective bargaining rights.

New Hampshire legislators took up the battle last year, voting to pass a right-to-work bill that would have outlawed the collective bargaining practice of requiring nonunion members to pay a fee to cover labor costs. But Gov. John Lynch vetoed the legislation, and House Republicans failed to gather enough votes to override the veto.

Most of the bills addressed Thursday have a different effect on organized labor, union leaders said.

The proposals to eliminate automatic deductions and to free nonunion members from paying dues, among others, would tear away lightly at the unions, discouraging members from taking part.

“I call it jackhammer legislation,” said David Lang, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire union. “It just starts chip, chip, chipping away until the whole house falls down.”

But one proposal in particular would have a more devastating effect, undermining unions entirely, organizers said.

HB 1645, sponsored by state Rep. Gary Lambert, R-Litchfield, proposes to repeal public employees’ collective bargaining rights.

Rather than negotiating as a group, this legislation would effectively leave firefighter, police and teacher contracts to the will of local councils, select boards or other municipal governing boards, who are responsible for town contracts, opponents said.

Lambert acknowledged the complications of the bill Thursday, saying he did not mean to propose eliminating all public collective bargaining rights when he filed his bill. Instead, he intended for the legislation to allow public employees to opt out of union representation when negotiating contracts.

State legislative staff, who helped write the bill, used much stronger language, Lambert told members of the House of Representatives’ Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services committee.

He intends to rework the legislation before bringing it to a full House vote later this winter.

“I have made a classic freshman mistake,” the first-term legislator said. “If you believe people should not be locked into a contract they are not a party to, maybe you should work with me.”

Local union members further decried the proposal as denying public workers basic rights.

“This would leave us at the whim of the government. It would leave us at the whim of politicians,” said Eric Tremblay, a Nashua fire lieutenant. “I don’t think anybody becomes a fireman to get rich. We just want what was promised to us.”

Members of the House’s Republican leadership team expressed concerns about the bill.

“If you don’t have fair labor practices, you could have a town and city shut down. Consider the consequences of what would happen to the people we represent,” state Rep. Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, the deputy House majority leader.

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.