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Thursday, March 15, 2012

House passes right-to-work legislation, but short of veto-proof majority

CONCORD – For the second straight year, the House of Representatives embraced a right-to-work bill, but fell short of the super-majority needed to overcome a certain veto from Gov. John Lynch.

After a brief debate Wednesday, the House voted to 198-139 to approve legislation, HB 1677, preventing any public or private employer from negotiating a contract that compels employees in a union to be members or pay so-called fair share fees to cover collective bargaining costs.

Rep. Will Smith, R-New Castle, said states with the lowest unemployment and highest job growth in recent years are right-to-work states.

“As opposed to forced unionization, this is a fair approach,” he said.

Rep. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, said the legislation embraces the constitutional right for all to freely associate.

“There are employees as a condition of employment to financially support a private organization that they don’t wish to associate with,” he said.

Supporters want New Hampshire to become the 24th state to adopt this policy.

Indiana was the latest two months ago and the first state to embrace right-to-work in a decade.

Days after the announcement, Caterpillar announced plans to move a Toronto, Ontario, plant to Muncie, Ind., bringing 450 new jobs.

“There is no reason why New Hampshire shouldn’t have the opportunity to attract companies such as Caterpillar, Boeing and Audi, businesses that locate to right-to-work states,” House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, said.

Rep. Lee Quandt, R-Exeter, said companies are attracted to the quality of its work force and not to anti-labor union laws.

“We’re bigger and better than that,” Quandt said.

Rep. Tim Copeland, R-Stratham, warned this could lead to lower wages and benefits.

“This bill is a bad solution looking for a non-existent problem,” Copeland said.

While the vote Wednesday was not as strong as last year, it revealed the same number of opponents.

The House voted 240-139 last November to override Lynch’s veto, which was 13 votes short of reaching the two-thirds majority benchmark needed.

Jay Ward, political director for the State Employees Association of New Hampshire, said there were 15 representatives absent Wednesday who would have voted against the bill.

“With a full House, we could have been up to 150. This was a very good vote for us,” Ward said.

Mark McKenzie, president of the state chapter of the AFL-CIO union, said he was gratified there was not any slippage among the pro-union ranks.

“Speaker O’Brien has made absolutely no headway in pushing his pet piece of legislation with legislators and the public over the last year.

McKenzie said. “Right-to-work is just as wrong today as it was last year, and today’s vote reflects that.”

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, said having right-to-work would be a great marketing point for New Hampshire as is the lack of sales or income tax.

“We are well-positioned to take full advantage of the growth of being the only right-to-work state in the Northeast,” Bettencourt said.