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The ‘Right to Work’ debate

We hear a lot about the way New Hampshire is losing its young people, and we hear a lot about the need for the state to attract new businesses to retain these young people.

There are surely many reasons why people leave the state for jobs elsewhere, but one of the most obvious ones is that they can’t support themselves and raise families on the wage the state offers.

How does a state create an environment that is attractive to both workers and businesses? In the New Hampshire Legislature we are revisiting "Right to Work" legislation. Right to Work has been described as protecting the freedom of workers in a unionized workplace from being required to join a union and pay dues.

There seems to be sense and appeal in such a law. Why should anyone eager to take a job be forced to join a union and pay its dues? Why should a union tell us what we have to do?

But looked at another way this right and this freedom are misleading because they don’t take into account what do unions do for us.

New Hampshire still has the federal minimum wage of $7.25. That is not a reasonable wage, and it’s not surprising young people are not willing to work for it. Unions can bargain for wages that will enable young workers to buy homes and raise families, that will provide security for older workers. And benefits. Unions negotiate for health insurance, family leave and retirement with dignity.

Well, you may say, Right to Work legislation isn’t going to abolish unions, so let people join or not as they wish and don’t require them to pay for something they don’t want. Yes, but don’t they want what the unions can give them?

Who wouldn’t want better wages, health insurance and other benefits? If you take a job in a unionized workplace, you benefit from what the union negotiates whether you’re a member or not. But someone else is paying for your benefits.

You’re taking a free ride. Without your support the union has less strength, both in personnel and finances. Right to Work legislation is really the right of business to weaken the bargaining power of unions and the right of business to weaken the right of workers to secure, well-paying jobs.

Greg Moore, director of New Hampshire Americans for Prosperity, said right to work would be a key factor in attracting new jobs to the state, particularly in manufacturing. Attractive to business because of weak unions but not attractive to workers.

What happens to businesses if unions become stronger? Will they avoid New Hampshire as too costly? This does not seem to have happened in other New England states.

People fear that unions detract from business profitability, but in fact unions ensure profitability for both businesses and workers.

Decent wages and benefits will encourage young people to stay and draw new workers to the state, and these people will have more income to spend on what businesses produce.

In New Hampshire business succeeds only if its workers succeed. It’s a win-win deal.

Katharine Gregg lives in Mason.