After passing on a party-line vote in the Commerce committee, the NH State Senate recently passed SB11, a so-called “right-to-work” bill. Tomorrow, the NH State House Committee on Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services will consider HB520, essentially the same bill. The one difference in the text is the absence of the Senate bill’s misused phrase “or reprise” in the opening declaration of the House bill’s purpose:

“It is hereby declared to be the public policy of this state in order to maximize individual freedom of choice in the pursuit of employment and to encourage an employment climate conducive to economic growth, that all persons shall have, and shall be protected in the exercise of, the right freely, and without fear of penalty [or reprise], to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from any such activity.”

Most of these prohibitions are already covered by federal law, or by public employee labor law for those not in the private sector. As quoted from the National Labor Relations Board Web site, “examples of employee rights include:

-Forming, or attempting to form, a union in your workplace;

-Joining a union whether the union is recognized by your employer or not;

-Assisting a union in organizing your fellow employees;

-Refusing to do any or all of these things.

-To be fairly represented by a union.”

For all the rhetoric about “individual freedom of choice,” the purpose of such legislation is explicitly political, and meant to “starve the beast” by defunding unions, which traditionally represent the most reliable opposition to Republican Party labor policies and campaigns. The true beneficiaries of “right-to-work” are not individual employees but the employers who are held by law to honor the CBA, which often include provisions for increased wages, safe working conditions, access to or subsidy of fringe benefits, and various other assurances of fair treatment and due process in employment practices. By stripping agency fees from unions, “right-to-work” legislation effectively undermines all that a CBA is meant to protect. Such legislation is bad for unions, bad for employees, bad for collective bargaining, and frequently succeeds because the language of the bills makes it seem as though an individual could be fired for not joining a union, which is disingenuous and manipulative, not to mention false.

By law, collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) must cover all employees of a specified unit, regardless of union membership. This means that the union is “on the hook” for the costs of bargaining and implementing a CBA, to the benefit of employees who are dues-paying members of the union, as well as those who are not. Non-members pay lesser “agency fees” to cover those costs associated with bargaining and implementation, while full dues paid by union members also cover political expenditures made by the union. The requirement that non-members pay agency fees is the only aspect of existing law that so-called “right-to-work” legislation changes.

In addition to the partisan motivation to defund unions, and the scare tactics used to do so, there is the unresolved paradox that many a “state’s rights” organization or politician will unabashedly campaign for “right-to-work” legislation identical to that proposed or passed in states across the nation, regardless of the particular and distinct economic drivers of the state or region in question. Most state legislation around this topic, including SB11 and HB520, is frequently copied nearly verbatim from text developed and disseminated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and as such can hardly be described as “right for New Hampshire” or “right for Kentucky.”

I have contacted my elected officials in the NH State Senate and House and told them why I think they should vote NO on this legislation. If you live in a “right-to-work” state or your legislators are working on passing such legislation, and if you or anyone you know is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, or is a union member, I suggest you exercise your rights as a citizen and your voice as a constituent, and call your State Senator and Representatives today.